What Can Cause Teenage Mental Health Issues?
The teenage years are trying in the best of circumstances.
The awkwardness of maturing, physically, emotionally, and socially, all while an adolescent’s body chemistry is changing and hormones are awakening, leave young people especially vulnerable to developing mental health concerns.
The common stressors of adolescence—puberty, peer-pressure, judgment, bullying, social ostracizing, or family dysfunction, to name a few—are all potential triggers to crisis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that among adolescents worldwide, somewhere between ten and twenty percent struggle with mental health issues.
Generalized anxiety, major depression, and social phobias (severe feelings of self-consciousness and insecurity in social settings) are the most prevalent mental health concerns among teenagers.
While no specific cause for mental health issues in teens can be identified, several biological and environmental elements have been identified as risk and/or contributing factors.
What are Biological Factors?
Mental illness has a long and well-documented history of biologically based risk and/or contributing factors. Biological factors include genetics, brain chemistry, hormones, nutrition, and gender—essentially anything physical that can have an adverse impact on our mental wellbeing.
Our genes may make us more vulnerable to certain mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Adolescents who have a parent or close relative struggling with mental illness are statistically at higher risk for the development of their own mental disorder.
As our brains are the control center of our body and nervous system, its chemistry is integral to our assessing, processing, and adapting to life’s circumstances and responding to life’s stressors.
Neurotransmitters are our brain’s natural chemicals which facilitate communication between our brain’s cells. An imbalance of our brain’s chemicals occurs when either too many or too few neurotransmitters are firing in response to a certain stimuli.
Hormones are brain chemicals which help regulate our body’s emotional stability. You’ve heard reference to hormonal imbalance in teenagers—during the teen years, as a teenager’s body matures, their hormones fluctuate, affecting their moods, emotions and impulses.
A growing number of studies suggest the foods we eat can impact our mood. While most of this research is focused on adults, healthy eating is known to help children and young people cope more effectively with stress, better manage their emotions and get a good sleep, all of which impacts mood and behavior.
Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression and/or depressive symptoms. Across the board, female mental health statistics are higher than those of men. These findings are consistent among adolescents, with girls reporting significantly higher rates than boys.
The prevalence of anxiety and depression is increasing faster among girls than boys.
What are Environmental Factors?
Environmental factors are external difficulties and stressors which can become pervasive in someone’s life.
Environmental factors may include things like trauma, bullying, school and/or work demands, cultural and/or social expectations, loss and/or grief, family and/or relational dysfunction, etc. COVID-19 can be considered an environmental factor for its impact on mental health.
Social Media Use and Adolescent Mental Health Issues
The rise of social media is believed to be both a risk and contributing factor where teenage mental health issues are concerned. Adolescents are especially vulnerable to platforms where users pursue “likes” and “comments” while anonymity allows people to more readily engage in cyber-bullying activity.
Experts warn this can lead to anxiety, depression and even suicide.
Substance use can contribute to an increase in pre-existing mental illness symptoms.
Studies have shown a strong tie, for instance, between alcohol abuse and depression, and between amphetamine abuse and anxiety.
Even legal substances, like excess sugar and caffeine, have been found to contribute to increased anxiety symptomology.
Signs Your Teenager Might Be Struggling
All teenagers experience a certain level of moodiness and angst.
There are distinguishable signs to look for as a parent or caregiver which can indicate more serious mental health concerns. Signs to look for include:
- Social withdrawal
- A decline in personal hygiene and self-care
- Extreme mood swings
- Pervasive moodiness or angst; lasting more than a few days
- Ongoing displays of anger, agitation, irritability, and hopelessness
- Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
- Dramatic changes in energy level and/or concentration
- Dramatic changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns and appetites
- Declining grades at school
- Suicidal thoughts and/or ideations
If you think your teen is in danger, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. The caring staff of mental health professionals at Honey Lake Clinic can not only provide you with a sound diagnosis, prescribe and oversee an effective treatment plan to help your child.