Skip to content

A Guide to Teen Mental Disorders

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Today, one in five teens has a diagnosable mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety. And these teen mental disorders are on the rise. In fact, experts say that mental disorders in teenagers are at an all-time high.

In addition to depression and anxiety, teenage mental health issues include trauma, Borderline Personality Disorder, and schizophrenia. Furthermore, teenage behavior disorders, such as substance abuse and eating disorders, are also classified as psychological disorders in teens.

Identifying teenage mental illness symptoms can be difficult. That’s because most teens are moody and emotional during this time of dramatic physical and mental changes. However, mental illness in teens involves behavioral and mood changes that are far more extreme than average.

Below is a look at the various teenage mental disorders.

Major Depression in Teens

One of the most common mental disorders among young adults in the United States is depression. According to a new report, diagnoses of major depression have risen by 33 percent since 2013. And teenage mental health statistics show that this rate is rising even faster among millennials—up by 47 percent. Furthermore, the rates of major depression in adolescents have increased by 47 percent for boys and 65 percent for girls.

A major depressive episode is a period of at least two weeks of low mood that is present in most situations. Symptoms include low self-esteem, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, and problems with sleep, energy and concentration. Teens with major depression find it difficult or impossible to do normal daily activities, such as working, studying, sleeping, and eating. Furthermore, those who have had one episode of major depressive disorder are at high risk of having another.

Major depression is also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression. It is one of the forms of depression that has the most severe symptoms. Consequently, it can arise in bouts and last for long periods of time. Therefore, it significantly affects quality of life for teens.

Teen Anxiety

It’s not always easy to tell when typical teen stress crosses over into anxiety in teenagers. However, teens with an anxiety disorder experience particularly high levels of anxiety. Moreover, these feelings get worse over time, rather than improving on their own.

Additionally, teens with anxiety disorders struggle with feelings of tension and fear that can interfere with daily activities at work and at school. Furthermore, like other teen mental disorders, teen anxiety affects adolescents’ relationships with peers and family members.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the most common teen anxiety disorder. This type of anxiety in teenagers involves excessive anxiety or worry over everyday events. Moreover, the anxiety lasts for a prolonged period of time. Teens with generalized anxiety experience intense emotional stress, as well as a range of anxiety-related symptoms. Moreover, teens with GAD experience excessive worrying and also low self-esteem.

Eating Disorders in Teens

Teen eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any mental disorder, resulting from starvation, metabolic collapse, or suicide. Therefore, it is one of the most dangerous teen mental disorders.

Consequently, teen eating disorders produce extreme disturbances in teenage eating behaviors and therefore physical health. But they also affect teenage mental health. Eating disorders almost always co-exist with another mental health issue.

Hence, adolescents with teen eating disorders tend to be moody, anxious, and/or depressed. Teens with eating disorders are also at greater risk for substance abuse and self-harming behavior.

Read “The Scary Truth About Teen Eating Disorders: Causes, Effects, and Statistics.”

Substance Use Disorder

The list of teen mental disorders includes substance use disorder. That’s because teens use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate depression, anxiety, trauma, low self-esteem, and other underlying conditions.

Substance use becomes an unhealthy and dangerous coping mechanism for symptoms of teen mental disorders. And prolonged use can progress into addiction. Scientists have found that the following factors increase the likelihood of substance use disorder:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Environmental acceptance of heavy drug use
  • Peer pressure.

Borderline Personality Disorder in Teens

Teens with borderline personality disorder lack a stable sense of self. Thus, teens with borderline personality disorder don’t know how to process emotions. Hence, without a firm identity, people with borderline personality disorder have extreme emotional instability.

Moreover, borderline personality disorder often first appears in teenagers and young adults. And teens with borderline personality disorder are unable to connect with others. Consequently, they become isolated and desperate. Lacking a clear sense of self, they feel chaotic and anxious. Therefore, encounters and scenarios that should be relatively easy to manage become difficult.

Teenage Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a chronic, lifelong disease. In addition, schizophrenia behaviors begin to develop in adolescence. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of schizophrenia often start in people who are younger than 30. Teenagers suffering from schizophrenia have trouble processing personal emotions. And they often become completely detached from reality.

People with schizophrenia have differences in their brain structures, chemical makeup, and processing abilities. Hence, people with schizophrenia have a difficult time understanding information and processing lessons. As a result, it can be difficult for them to completely take control of their disease. Therefore, the goal of schizophrenia treatment is to help the person understand the disease and work hard to keep it under control.

Newport Academy Resources Mental Health: Teen Mental Disorders

Teen Trauma and PTSD

After tragic events, those who were impacted—directly or indirectly—may experience lasting effects. Such trauma can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Causes of PTSD in teens include accidents, natural disasters, fires, crimes, childhood abuse, the loss of a parent or other family member, and other tragedies and childhood trauma.

A single traumatic event is called an “acute trauma.” An acute trauma can lead to teen mental disorders such as traumatic stress and PTSD. Traumatic stress can last days, weeks, or months following the event.

Ongoing traumatic events, such as exposure to childhood abuse, domestic violence, or gang violence, are called “chronic trauma.” Both acute and chronic trauma can lead to PTSD in teens.

Other Teenage Mental Health Conditions

Beyond the most common teen mental disorders, adolescents also experience more unusual mental health conditions. These include the following:

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Narcissistic Personality Disorder affects around 6 percent of people nationwide, but is more prevalent in younger people. Narcissistic tendencies include having grandiose ideas about oneself and one’s achievements. Moreover, narcissists lack the ability to empathize with others.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that affects children, teens, and adults.

Histrionic Personality Disorder: Histrionic Personality Disorder in teenagers is a mental health condition that is characterized by over-dramatizing feelings and situations.

Dissociative Identity Disorder: Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a diagnosis in which a person has two or more distinct personality states. Those with DID are often struggling with deep trauma or abuse.

Gaming Disorder: The World Health Organization recently classified gaming disorder as a mental health condition. Gaming disorder is similar to other addictions, such as gambling addiction or substance abuse. Therefore, this disorder is characterized by the inability to control an obsession with video gaming.

Newport Academy Resources Mental Health: Teen Mental Disorders

The Causes of Teen Mental Health Disorders

Experts have various theories about why teen mental disorders are increasing so dramatically. Most important, they believe that teenagers may be affected by a combination of several of these factors.

  • For one, scientists have found correlations between screen time and teen mental disorders. Excessive use of technology takes time and energy away from relationships, education, and extracurricular activities. “Since 2010, iGen adolescents have spent more time on new media screen activities and less time on nonscreen activities, which may account for the increases in depression and suicide,” the researchers concluded.
  • In addition, social media is a primary source of anxiety and pressure for adolescents. Teens become depressed when they compare their lives unfavorably to the people they follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  • Moreover, many teens experience some degree of academic pressure. Hence, an uncertain economy and tough competition for college, grad school, and jobs make that pressure worse.
  • Furthermore, today’s teens have fewer coping skills. Parents try to shield them from experiencing failure and disappointment. Therefore, teens have fewer chances to build resilience. Thus, they don’t learn how to cope with challenges.
  • The adolescent brain is still growing. Hence, teens have an immature prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls self-regulation. Thus, they have a limited ability to exert control over their impulses. Consequently, this leads to teenage risk behaviors, such as substance abuse and unsafe sexual choices.
  • Because adolescents spend so much time on screens, they don’t get outside enough. Hence, they suffer from nature deficit disorder, a phrase coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods. Because teens and children are spending less time outdoors, they experience a wide range of behavioral and mental health problems.

Treatment for Teen Mental Disorders

Treatment by mental health professionals makes a significant different in teenage mental health disorders. However, many adolescents don’t get the type of mental health treatment they need. In fact, six out of 10 teens with depression don’t get treatment. And eight out of 10 teens with anxiety don’t receive treatment.

Treatment options for teen mental disorders include residential treatment, outpatient treatment, and partial hospital programs.

Read “Types of Mental Health Treatment.”

In summary, teen mental disorders are widespread and run the gamut from brief periods of distress to chronic mental illness. Therefore, treatment for teenage mental health conditions is crucial. And earlier treatment results in better outcomes.

Images courtesy of unsplash


BlueCross BlueShield “The Health of America” Study
US Dept. of Health & Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration  
National Institute of Mental Health
Clin Psych Sci. 2017 Nov:3–17. 
Addict. Behavior. 2010 May;35(5):392–8. 
J Adolesc Health. 2011 Mar;48(3):310–313.