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Common Mental Health Warning Signs

Mental health is not simply the presence or absence of symptoms. Mental health includes generally feeling and functioning well and resiliently when faced with setbacks.1 Adolescents may have different symptoms than adults with the same mental health disorder and symptoms may vary from person to person. Some adolescents only experience one or two symptoms while others experience more.  Furthermore, adolescents may experience symptoms only once or infrequently, in which case they may be just experiencing emotions that are common at this age. These variations can make identification and diagnosis of mental health disorders challenging.2 According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a child or teen might need help if they:

  • Often feel very angry or very worried
  • Have difficulty sleeping or eating
  • Lose interest in activities that they used to enjoy
  • Isolate themselves and avoid social interactions
  • Feel grief for a long time after a loss or death
  • Use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
  • Obsessively exercise, diet, and/or binge eat 
  • Hurt other people or destroy property
  • Have low or no energy
  • Feel like they can’t control their emotions
  • Have thoughts of suicide
  • Harm themselves (e.g., burning or cutting their skin)
  • Think their mind is being controlled or is out of control
  • Hear voices

If you observe a teen experiencing these symptoms and need to seek help, consult your healthcare provider or mental health professional. In crisis or life-threatening situations, call 911, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or go to your nearest hospital emergency room. Visit NIMH’s Help for Mental Illness page for more details and to identify treatment options in your area.


1 Murphey, D., Stratford, B., Gooze, R., Bringewatt, E., Cooper, P. M, Carney, R., & Rojas, A. (2014). Are the children well? A model and recommendations for promoting the mental wellness of the nation’s young people. Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/publications/are-the-children-well-a-model-and-recommendations-for-promoting-the-mental-wellness-of-the-nations-young-people/.
2 Mojtabai, R., Olfson, M., & Han, B. (2016). National trends in the prevalence and treatment of depression in adolescents and young adults. Pediatrics, 138(6). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1878
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on January 15, 2019