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Teenage Mental Disorders and Treatment Options

How Do I Know If My Teenager is Mentally Ill?

When your child experiences a sudden change in personality, it can be a shock. For some teens, the change is very gradual and starts early in childhood. But, for other teenagers, poor behavior or decision-making may seem to happen overnight.

Some of the top causes for teen behavioral disorders include:

  • Increased or introduced stressors
  • Past or present trauma
  • Witnessing domestic violence or substance abuse
  • Lack of parental oversight or structure
  • Emotional or physical neglect
  • Inconsistent or overbearing discipline
  • Lots of moving or a major family breakup (divorce)
  • Loss of a parent or close loved one
  • Bullying from peers or adults
  • Genetic or runs in the family


It’s important to understand, a mental health professional is trying to blame the parent.

While there are certainly cases of a tough home life or parents causing increased stress, it also might not have anything to do with you. The only goal in treatment should be to understand the root cause in order to provoke change and healing.

Understanding the context behind behavioral change can help you understand why your teen is struggling and how to move forward into a healthier relationship. Sometimes, when parents don’t understand the underlying cause of negative behavior, they accidentally make the situation worse when all they want to do is help.

The right treatment facilities can help push the “reset” button on your family dynamic.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Conditions

We see a lot of different kids come through for a lot of different struggles that need a wide variety of treatments. Here are a few of the most common teen behavioral issues and mental health struggles.


If your teen is dealing with a complete lack of motivation to do even the most basic things, like self-care or attend social events, then they may be dealing with depression. Teens who are depressed might come across as lazy, exhausted, irritable or sad. It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between normal moody teen behavior and something like depression.

While it isn’t unusual for a teen to drag their feet about something they don’t want to do (like chores or homework), you might notice your teen stops hanging out with friends or doing things they used to love. If your teen seems to be sleeping a lot more and is far less active, you may be dealing with depression.

Teen Trauma and PTSD

Sometimes teens may not even know what is triggering self-destructive or dangerous behavior. Other times, they can’t stop thinking about it and the trauma becomes almost an obsession. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may result in an extreme amount of emotional and physical distress when something reminds your teen of past trauma.

A traumatized teen may deal with explosive rage, crippling fear, unwarranted guilt or extreme anxiety. They may make extremely poor choices because of the impact of past trauma on their subconscious thinking process. They may have trouble falling asleep or be plagued with nightmares. During the day, they could struggle with disturbing memories or they may have missing gaps in their memories (caused by blocking out the trauma).

Teen Anxiety

It is completely natural for adolescents and teens to deal with a certain level of uncertainty and awkwardness as their hormones shift, their bodies change and they are in limbo between childhood and adulthood. However, generalized anxiety disorder can also be common for teens and it is an unhealthy response that could worsen with time or cause compounded issues.

Anxiety might include feelings of “going crazy” or an inability to stop worrying about potential scenarios. It could include symptoms of:

  • Dizziness, trembling and sweating
  • Shaking and rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty with falling or staying asleep
  • Nausea or vomiting related to stress
  • Chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Feeling like they are dying


Eating Disorders

The stress and pressure of being a teen sometimes result in an unhealthy self-image. If a teen experience self-hate, they may turn to life-threatening eating disorders. This might also occur if a teen feels out of control, since their own food intake is often one thing they can control.

Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia includes not eating enough food to sustain a healthy body weight and being afraid of becoming overweight. In most cases, a teen will be excessively thin and still refuse to eat, starving themselves to maintain below-normal weight. They may also excessively pursue exercise.

Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia is often harder to catch because a teen will eat a normal meal, snack or dessert and then go vomit it out later (purge). They often feel guilt or shame after eating food because they also have an obsessive desire to lose weight.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Defiance in a teen can lead to fighting, vindictiveness and rage towards authority figures. While teens are often strong-willed, ODD typically develops during the earlier years of childhood and include extreme behavioral issues that include:

  • Shows resentment towards those in authority
  • Touchy and easily annoyed
  • Loses temper easily
  • Argumentative and defiant
  • Deliberately pushes buttons or breaks rules
  • Tries to upset others and blames others for personal mistakes
  • Spiteful and vindictive

Conduct Disorder (CD)

Aggressiveness that may include blatant disregard for others or aggressive physical responses could be a sign of conduct disorder (CD). This disorder often includes a callous disregard for social norms, including the feelings, rights or needs of others.

Someone with CD may push, hit and bite as a child and then start bullying, hurting animals, stealing, vandalizing or picking fights in their teens. Without treatment, this may develop into adult antisocial personality disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

While teens are known for their moodiness and emotional changes, instability in moods and relationships may point to borderline personality disorder (BPD). In most cases, this will include feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, impulsiveness and the inability to regulate emotions. It typically includes an intense fear of abandonment which may result in pushing others away.

Gaming and Technology-Related Disorders

A more recent development is how technology impacts young minds. These disorders might include losing control over online behavior, obsession with technology or choosing technology regardless of the negative consequences (like poor grades, lost relationships, damaged reputations or sleep exhaustion). It could include insomnia because of obsession with games or social media.

In many self-esteem issues for girls, we see struggles typically compounded by social media. Both social media and gaming can enable anonymous cyber bullying with “sock accounts” or “trolls” that aren’t real accounts. The issues with gaming and social media have only increased as a result of COVID. This can lead to other issues, like eating disorders, anxiety, depression and more.


Adolescents often struggle to pay attention to things they don’t care about. It isn’t normal fro a teen to be excessively inattentive, rude or unable to wait for their turn. ADHD in teens might include interrupting the teacher or being unwilling to wait their turn in line. They might rush through assignments and leave them riddled with mistakes in their hurry. You may notice your teen is fidgety and can’t sit still like their peers in a quiet setting.

Because of the resulting anxiety and often feeling misunderstood, ADHD results in more extensive conduct disorders. Most ADHD kids in programs have some level of comorbidity and are extremely likely to have ODD.

Substance Use

For kids that are struggling with substance abuse, a rehab center is typically recommended. But, after rehab, the desire to turn to substances doesn’t just go away. We see many teens who still struggle with:

  • Substance Dependence
  • Alcohol Abuse
  • Drug Abuse


We see substance use, but not as much addiction. These teens need help dealing with the emotional issues that drove the substance abuse behaviors and cause a high risk for relapse.

Getting Help for Your Teen

We highly recommend you seek residential treatment if your teen is struggling with behavior you don’t understand. Contact the family advisor to discuss treatment options if your teen is diagnosed with a mental disorder. It can be difficult to know how to respond, but we can help!

Mental Health Treatment Options for Teens

Therapeutic Programs for Teens

There are many short-term programs that are designed to “whip” your child into shape. We typically see a lot of backlash coming from these programs because of their short-term nature.

Wilderness programs and bootcamps for teens often lead to harmful settings where a teen feels pressured into acting a certain way. In some cases, this results in a short-term improvement that reverts when they return home. In other cases, this can cause resentment and defiance in the teen that worsens their mindset.

We find that these programs rarely are able to give teens the long-term coping tools they need to make a real change.

Therapeutic Boarding Schools

There are some great therapeutic boarding schools that can take your child for part of the year. These programs pull your child out of their school and home setting so that they are completely surrounded by the staff, programming and setting designed to help them thrive.

Many therapeutic boarding schools are designed for students who are struggling with smaller issues or well on the road to recovery. For the tougher cases, a therapeutic boarding school may not be the ideal solution because it lacks the security and structure to help a difficult teen.

Therapeutic boarding schools may be ideal for teens that struggle with self-confidence or body image issues. It might be the right choice for a teen that is ADHD or is having a hard time respecting parental rules. A therapeutic school program can be the perfect solution for a teen that has gotten in with a troubled crowd and needs space from bad influences.

Residential Treatment Centers for Troubled Teens

When your son or daughter is truly out of control, a dramatic change may need to occur. Living away from home, surrounded by security, therapists and supportive staff can often help a teen get a clearer picture of reality. Sometimes, it takes extreme treatment to help a troubled teen make a serious effort to heal and grow.

Residential treatment facilities have teens living there 24-7 until their program is complete. All schooling, therapy, extracurriculars, free time, visitations and meals occur within the facility as the teen works through the program. There is typically a multi-tiered approach, so teens can work their way towards independence. The highly structured programs help keep teens on track until they can be trusted with more responsibility.

A residential treatment center may seem like an extreme solution, but it can be one of the most effective treatments for troubled teens. Teens are given the tools they need to live a healthy life and the opportunities to practice their coping skills. In this environment, teens can start to change their behavior patterns for the better and learn to catch their triggers to curb negative behavior.

If you believe your child may need treatment, talk to a counselor today.