Our culture often portrays teens as moody, dramatic, and difficult to deal with, which can mask deeper emotional and mental struggles that go far beyond the dramatic teen trope. An increasing number of preteens and teens are suffering from a range of emotional and mental struggles such as anxiety, depression, mood disorders, behavior problems, low self esteem, and difficulty coping.
A 2019 study discovered that this upward trend is significant with a 52% increase of depressive symptoms in teens from 2005 to 2017 and a 71% increase in those experiencing serious psychological distress from 2008 to 2017. This study also discovered that these trends have had a much larger impact on younger generations which can be in part explained by the increase of electronic communication and social media.
The increased likelihood of teens experiencing emotional struggles in adolescence can have significant long term impacts on their futures, with a 2016 study claiming that suffering from emotional problems in adolescence puts individuals at a higher risk for future joblessness. Adolescents who were highly distressed during their teens years were 26% more likely to be unemployed during early adulthood, irrespective of socio-economic background.
The risk of future success, along with myriad negative impacts on teens during adolescence, signals the importance of learning about common emotional issues in teens, what to look for, and how to help.
Common emotional struggles in teens
When looking at emotional struggles in teens, it’s important to account for gender differences. Before puberty, the prevalence of emotional disorders is about the same for boys and girls and assigned female at birth at about 3-5%, but by adolescence girls and assigned female at birth are twice as likely as boys to be diagnosed with a mood disorder. This disparity has been explained by researchers as differences in the way girls and assigned female at birth process emotional stimuli in the brain. Because girls and assigned female at birth mature faster in terms of emotional recognition, this sensitivity can make them more vulnerable to depression and anxiety during adolescence than their male counterparts.
Teen girls and assigned female at birth experiencing emotional issues and disorders are most likely to be diagnosed with internalized disorders such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. These disorders are expressed within the individuals and reflect troubled emotional states. While this is the umbrella term for emotional struggles, there are many subsequent struggles within the category of internalized disorders.
Anxiety is one of the most likely emotional struggles for adolescent girls and assigned female at birth to experience. It can manifest in many different forms that can cause a range of symptoms for young women. Generalized anxiety disorder refers to the excessive anxiety and worry about daily events or activities, and the intensity, duration, and frequency of this excessive worry is out of proportion to the actual likelihood or effect of the anticipated event. Individuals struggling with generalized anxiety will find it difficult to control their worries and thoughts and are unable to prevent these thoughts from interfering with attention on given tasks.
Another type of anxiety teen could face is social anxiety disorder. This type of anxiety is marked by excessive fear or worries about participating in social situations, causing them to avoid all social activity. Teens can also experience panic disorder, which results in repeated and unexpected panic attacks. These panic attacks are brought up by an intense surge of fear and result in cognitive and physical symptoms such as pounding heart, sweating, trembling or shaking, feelings of choking, nausea, and fear of losing control.
Two other types of common anxiety disorders in teens are obsessive compulsive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. OCD in teens can present as contamination obsessions and cleaning compulsions, repeating symmetry ordering and counting compulsions, or forbidden or taboo thoughts. PTSD can develop following childhood trauma and can result in fear-based reexperiencing of the trauma, anhedonic mood states, negative cognitions, and dissociative symptoms.
Beyond anxiety, another common type of emotional struggle in teen girls and assigned female at birth are mood disorders which include depression, bipolar disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Depression is one of the most common emotional issues teens can experience and is marked by low mood, feelings of hopelessness, a loss of interest in all activities, and increased irritation and aggression. To be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder by a medical professional, symptoms need to persist for a period of at least two weeks.
Bipolar disorder can also occur in teens, and is categorized by distinct periods of abnormally and persistently elevated and expansive moods or irritability and persistently increased activity or energy lasting at least 4 consecutive days. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder can occur in girls and assigned female at birth starting during puberty and is the recurrence of severe changes in affect including mood, irritability, dysphoria, and anxiety during the luteal phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Lastly, adolescent females and assigned female at birth are more likely than other groups to experience eating disorders and self injury or cutting. These disorders can be born out of low self-esteem and negative self-image and may not necessarily be a direct result of depression. These measures are often taken as a dysfunctional coping mechanism to alleviate emotional pain or numbness. If you worry your child could be experiencing any of these emotional conditions, there are many warning signs you can look for.
Warning signs your teens could be experiencing emotional struggles
While each individual emotional struggle teens experience has its own set of symptoms, there are common signs of emotional and mental illness you can be on the lookout for if you worry your teen may be struggling. Common warning signs include:
– Excessive worrying or fear
– Feeling extreme lows and sadness
– Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
– Extreme mood changes including feelings of euphoria and uncontrollable highs
– Prolonged feelings of anger or irritability
– Avoiding activities or hanging out with friends
– Struggling to understand and relate to others
– Changes in sleeping or eating patterns and habits
– Changes in attitudes around sexuality
– Difficulty perceiving reality which could include delusions or hallucinations
– Inability to look inside one’s feeling and perceive changes
– Use or abuse of substances such as alcohol or drugs
– Physical pain or ailments without any obvious cause, which could include headaches, stomachaches, and ongoing aches/pains
– Thinking about or talking about self-harm or suicide
– Verbalizing fears about weight gain or concern about appearance.
If your child is exhibiting any of the mentioned symptoms, it’s important to start interventions right away. In addition to the symptoms experienced from the disorders themselves, there are also add-on effects that may cause lifelong issues, such as the study that identified potential employment deficits for those experiencing emotional issues.
Additionally, emotional issues can create negative impacts on academic and social functioning, which will not only put their beyond their peers but can exacerbate anxious and depressive symptoms. For these reasons, it’s essential to identify strategies to help your child through this tough period.
Strategies for helping your child through emotional issues
There are many things you can do as a parent to help your child work through emotional struggles, at the core of which is constantly communicating your love as teens decide how to feel about themselves largely by how their parents react to them. Try these strategies to help your child build strong emotional health:
Support building confidence and self-esteem: Help your child build up their confidence by praising their often and being specific about the praise. Tell their exactly what they does that makes you proud of their and how they contributes to the family system. Make this praise more about who they are and what they does than compliments related to their appearance.
Provide emotional support: Encourage your teens to talk with you about the various emotions they may be experiencing and provide a non-judgmental listening ear and soundboard for them so they feel understood and heard.
Provide a safe environment: Make sure your home is an environment where your child feels safe and loved. Maintain daily and weekly routines so they feel secure and confident about home being a safe space.
Teach resilience: Work with your child on how to make it through tough times. This can include teaching coping skills to manage stress and anxiety, and how to find learning opportunities in setbacks and failures.
Consider therapeutic interventions: There are many effective types of therapies known to benefit teens struggling with anxiety and depression such as cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma focused equine therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy.
If your child is struggling to work through emotional issues, Solstice RTC can provide their the safe and therapeutic space they needs to heal.
Solstice RTC can help your child through emotional struggles
Solstice RTC is one of the leading residential treatment centers for adolescents ages 14-17, and we specialize in helping teens on their journey towards healing by utilizing a unique blend of therapeutic techniques based on traditional and holistic treatment methods. We strive to empower teenage people with the ability to believe in themselves and provide the tools and motivation required to instill these beliefs for life.
We help teen students experiencing a variety of challenges related to past trauma, loss, attachment issues, depression and mood disorders, and low self-esteem. Our approach to change emphasizes student’s strengths within a therapeutic culture where acceptance, chance, and growth are supported and valued. Positive relationships characterized by emotional safety are at the crux of this process. For more information on how Solstice RTC could help, please call (866) 278-3345.