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Is it More than Angst? 15 Top Mental Health Red Flags Parents Shouldn’t Ignore

The 15 Most Concerning Issues for Parents of Troubled Teenagers

Updated on April 29, 2024

The level of concern over youth mental health among parents of troubled teens has never been higher than today. Just five short years ago, a survey completed by Pew Research revealed that parents were concerned mostly about their child being bullied (60 percent).

Top Parental Concerns Before the COVID Pandemic


  • Being kidnapped: 50%
  • Getting physically attacked: 45%

Mental Health:

  • Depression and anxiety: 54%

Risky Behaviors:

  • Teen pregnancy: 43%
  • Drug and alcohol use: 41%
  • Being arrested/in trouble with law enforcement: 27%

By 2022, parental worry and anxiety over all these issues have increased alarmingly–and for good reason.   In 2021, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry proclaimed a national emergency existed over the state of child and adolescent mental health in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the situation has only worsened since that declaration. Recent data shows that the second leading cause of death for 10-14-year-olds is suicide.

This trend reinforces the urgent need for increased mental health support, accessible resources, and a reduction in the stigma surrounding mental illness – especially for our youth.

If you are worried about your teen’s mental health, you are not alone.  Learn the top 15 warning signs that may indicate a serious problem. 

Teen Mental Health 

The AACAP further called for schools to rapidly integrate additional mental health services for both elementary and high school kids and provide insurance coverage for teen mental disorders-related services to ensure kids receive the help they need.

While the pandemic undoubtedly worsened the rate of children suffering from behavioral disorders and mental illness, parents also point to social media as another primary factor impacting the well-being of their children. Studies indicate that the leading concerns parents have about teens using social media sites include:

  • Prevents teens from getting enough sleep and physical activity
  • Prevent teens from concentrating on schoolwork
  • Provokes and intensifies a teen’s need for attention, approval, and acceptance
  • Focuses too much on body image, appearance, and looking like a celebrity
  • Reduces the time teens spend interacting face-to-face in the “real” world
  • Exposes teens to sexual predators, bullies, and hate speech

A troubled teen who is coping with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as isolation, being out of school, parents losing jobs, pandemic-related evictions, and an unhealthy reliance on social media, is at extreme risk of developing severe behavioral disorders and/or mental illness.

This also brings us to another parenting issue. What should parents do when their child shows signs of a behavioral disorder or mental health illness? When does depression or generalized anxiety disorder require more than outpatient treatment for teens?

Are you concerned about your teen’s behavior or emotional well-being? Read on to discover the top 15 warning signs that shouldn’t be ignored.

Teen Mental Health Concerns vs Behavioral Disorders

A behavioral disorder is characterized by a teen’s out-of-control behaviors and how these behaviors lead to adverse consequences that work to fuel the disorder.

Clinicians diagnose children with a behavioral disorder if the child has exhibited a clear pattern of aberrant, disruptive behaviors for at least six months. Behavioral disorders always cause the child problems at home, school, and with peer relationships. They also share similar traits, such as: 

  • Appearing at a young age
  • Impulsivity
  • Poor emotional control
  • Verbal and physical aggression
  • Outbursts of irrational rage
  • Bullying others
  • Lying
  • Skipping school/refusing to focus on academic work

A mental illness is a medical disease that arises from the way a person thinks rather than the way a person behaves. It can be difficult for parents of teens suffering from depression or a generalized anxiety disorder to recognize their child needs clinical help because the child may not behave out of the ordinary.

However, both teen mental health problems and teen behavioral disorders share certain features, such as an imbalance of brain chemicals and underlying genetic elements. In fact, mental health illness and behavioral disorders have strong genetic components that indicate they are highly inheritable.

A mental illness is a medical disease that arises from the way a person thinks rather than the way a person behaves.

A behavioral disorder is characterized by a teen's out-of-control behaviors and how these behaviors lead to adverse consequences that work to fuel the disorder.

Top 15 Mental Health and Behavioral Issues for Teens

Does It Mean Your Teen has a Mental Health Issues or Behavioral Disorder?

 1.  Generalized Anxiety or Depression

These are mental illnesses that may be mistaken for normal teen “doom and gloom” moods. When teen depression symptoms and anxiety last longer than several weeks, parents should consider talking to a school counselor for advice on addressing their teen’s depression or anxiety.

  2.  Lying/Inventing Stories

Children who lie to avoid the consequences of their actions understand their behavior is wrong. Lying is a characteristic of conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and sometimes ADHD.

  3.  Spending Too Much Time Online

Internet addiction includes gaming addiction, social media obsession, and browsing chatrooms. Teens spending most of their time online may be suffering from a mental illness (teen depression, teen anxiety disorder, a delusional disorder), or a behavioral disorder (ADHD, anorexia nervosa/bulimia, or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) if the teen is engaging in cyberbullying).

  4.  Withdrawing from Friends and Social Activities

General Depression, teen anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, and online addiction often cause a teen to isolate themselves from friends and family.

  5.  Poor School Performance

Failing classes in school, skipping school, or being thrown out of school is a classic sign of a conduct disorder, ODD, or ADHD. Severe depression and anxiety can also impact a child’s school performance.

  6.  Giving In to Peer Pressure

Depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, and ADHD can make teens vulnerable to falling in with the wrong crowd.

  7.  Bullying/Cyberbullying

Children and teens with conduct disorder or ODD may bully peers. Bullying is also a behavior that neglected kids use to get the attention they crave. Alternately, bullying is seen in “entitled”, overindulged children who could be developing sociopathic tendencies.

  8.  Aggressive/Violent Behavior

Teens with ADHD, ODD, conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, substance addiction, intermittent explosive disorder, and antisocial personality disorder can act aggressively or violently toward others. 

  9.  Rebelliousness and Defiance

The fine line between normal teenage rebelliousness and defiance and pathological rebelliousness/defiance is crossed when the child’s behavior severely disrupts their family, social, and school life. Sometimes, the issues are more than typical teenage behavior, it can be a sign of a mood disorder like bipolar or borderline personality disorder.

 10.  Low Self-esteem/Poor Body Image/Eating Disorder

Major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or another teen mental health issue is likely behind these problems.

 11.  Gender Identity

Teens who question their gender identity are not necessarily questioning their identity do to a behavioral disorder or mental illness. However, unless they receive love and support from their parents, they could become severely depressed, suffer from suicide ideation, or run away from home. Recent statistics show that 50% of adults who identify as LGB experience a mental health condition.   There’s little data on teens, but this adult statistic should serve as a warning. 

 12.  Sexual Promiscuity

Drug addiction, child abuse, and/or mental illness may cause a teen to have multiple sex partners.

 13.  Substance Abuse/Addiction

Although considered a behavioral disorder, substance addiction is an issue for teens.  However, substance misuse is a larger problem. Substance misuse is using a legal drug or a valid prescription in a way that is not appropriate.  

 14.  Running Away from Home

Kids with a behavioral disorder, mental illness or both may run away from home for numerous reasons, ranging from an unstable home life, dodging juvenile detention, or avoiding being sent to a teen residential treatment facility.

 15.  Suicide Ideation/Self-harming Behaviors

Mental health disorders such as major depression, severe anxiety disorders, and some personality disorders can make kids think about or actually harm themselves.

Parents with serious concerns about their troubled teen can call us today to learn how to get immediate help for their child. Many residential treatment centers and therapeutic boarding schools for kids and teens accept insurance to cover a portion of the mental health treatment costs. 

Talk with a family advocate today about mental health treatment for teens and verifying your insurance.

Resources and Help for Parents of  Troubled Teens

Here is a list of valuable resources that offer guidance, support, and direct help to families facing difficulties with teen mental health issues:

  1. 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Provides immediate support for individuals in crisis. Access confidential and immediate help by visiting 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline Chat. This resource offers a safe space to discuss any emotional crises, mental health concerns, or suicidal thoughts with trained counselors.

  2. AAP-AACAP-CHA Declaration of a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health: Recognizing the escalating crisis in child and adolescent mental health, leading organizations have issued a declaration to prompt governmental action and increase resources. Parents can read more about this significant advocacy effort here to understand the steps being taken and how these might affect the care available to their families.

  3. Your Life Your Voice: Operated by Boys Town, this resource offers support to teens and parents via phone, text, chat, and email, addressing various emotional and psychological challenges. Trained counselors provide guidance on how to cope with family issues, stress, anger, depression, or feelings of isolation. Visit their website to access these services and explore practical tips and tools for managing mental health: Your Life Your Voice.

These resources provide essential support and information that can help parents of troubled teens feel less alone and more empowered to assist their children effectively.

Speak to an expert about Is it More than Angst? 15 Top Mental Health Red Flags Parents Shouldn’t Ignore and your teenager.

Connect with an Admissions Counselor who specializes in "comorbidity, mental health treatment" to help your teen begin their recovery today.

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