Mental health is a serious issue that affects people of all ages. Often, mental health problems begin to manifest earlier in life, during the teenage and young adult years. According to the American Psychiatric Association, half of mental illnesses begin by age 14, and three-quarters of mental illnesses appear by age 24.
For these reasons, it’s important that people understand what mental illness is and how it can impact their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Most importantly, you should know that help is available when you need it, and no one needs to go through it alone.
Being a teen or young adult is difficult enough as it is. However, the continued pressures of isolation and social distancing brought about by COVID-19 can leave many without the face-to-face interaction that is an important factor in mental health. A June 2020 report by the Huffington Post revealed that 60% of teens expressed feelings of loneliness during the pandemic, while 43% revealed feelings of depression brought on by the isolation and uncertainty of COVID-19. Regardless of the specific cause, it’s important for parents, guardians, teachers, and others to identify the symptoms of mental illness in teens and young adults so they can guide them toward treatment and counseling to help improve their outlook in both the short and long term.
What Does it Mean to Have a Mental Illness?
A mental illness is any condition that makes it difficult for a person to think, feel, behave, or function as they would normally. This difficulty may be long-lasting, or it may occur from time to time. Mental illnesses include conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and anxiety. As with any other illness, it’s necessary to see a healthcare provider who can diagnose the issue and help treat it.
If you notice any unusual or disturbing changes to your behavior or how you feel, it’s important to tell your parents or a trusted adult right away so you can receive proper help and treatment. Symptoms that should cause concern include an inability to eat or sleep; a drastic decrease in energy; feelings of hopelessness, confusion, worry, or fear; frequent or sudden bouts of anger; or feeling on edge or like you can’t calm down.
Some people who are experiencing mental health issues may find that they’ve lost interest in the things that they normally enjoy; they may no longer want to spend time with their friends, find it difficult to go to school or focus while in school, or fight constantly with family and friends. Some mental health issues can even cause people to hear voices or want to hurt themselves or others. If this happens to you, it’s crucial that you get help immediately.
The simplest way to get the help you need is to talk to a parent or guardian, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you could turn to another trusted adult such as a teacher, guidance counselor, another family member, religious leader, or call your doctor yourself. When you’re deciding who to talk to about your concerns, pick someone who is not judgmental, is a good listener, respects your need for privacy, and will take what is said seriously. This person should also be someone who you’re comfortable talking to and who gives good advice.
If you’re not comfortable talking to someone you know about your problems, you can also talk to someone anonymously by calling a hotline or using another type of support service.
Online Resources for Adolescents and Young Adults
- NAMI: Teens and Young Adults: The National Alliance on Mental Illness explains that a mental illness is not the victim’s fault and that resources are available to help.
- Your Feelings: GirlsHealth.gov offers helpful advice on ways that teenage girls can understand and cope with issues such as depression, self-esteem, stress, body image, anxiety, and other topics related to positive mental health.
- For Young People Looking for Help: MentalHealth.gov explains that mental health issues can strike young people as well as adults. Visit its website to understand what constitutes a mental health condition.
- Warning Signs of Suicide (PDF): This document talks about how to detect warning signs that someone might commit suicide.
- Mental Health Resources for Teens: This in-depth article and analysis by Teen Vogue serves as a reference guide to help teenagers — specifically those in the LGBTQ community — find the support they need to overcome emotional or mental distress.
- Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator: On this page, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a locator to help you find treatment options if you’re struggling with a mental illness or an addiction.
- Teen Mental Health: Sponsored by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, this page explores the unique mental pressures faced by teens and offers resources to learn more about treatment and therapy options.
Helpful Apps & Information
- MindShift App: Anxiety Canada offers an app on this page that can help those who suffer from anxiety.
- Mood 24/7: Johns Hopkins University has developed a mood-tracking app that allows users to share data with family, friends, and medical professionals.
- ADAA-Reviewed Mental Health Apps: Click this link to learn about software that has been reviewed by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
- The Rise of Digital Technology in Mental Health: Mental health conditions cost Americans nearly $200 billion in lost earnings every year. Forbes explains how researchers have been using technology to help treat mental illnesses.
- New Apps Give Teens Easier, Persistent Access to Mental Help: Visit this page to read about apps that can be used in the treatment of certain mental health conditions.
- Bipolar Medication Guide: Visit Helpguide.org for information about medication used to treat bipolar disorder. It gives tips for achieving the maximum benefit from medication and how to find the correct medicine to treat the condition.
- A Guide to Psychotropic Medications for Youth in Foster Care (PDF): This document by ChildWelfare.gov concentrates on youth in the foster care system. It includes information on various types of medication that can be used to treat mental health conditions that often result from trauma, loss, depression, anxiety, family issues, and other determining factors.
- Mental Health Medications: This page from the National Institute of Mental Health provides an overview and analysis of the uses, benefits, and effects of certain medications used to treat a variety of mental health conditions.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Learn how medicine can help people with ADHD in this article.
- Drugs to Treat Mental Illness: Read about medications that are commonly used to treat mental illnesses.
- I’m Alive: If you feel like you have no one you can turn to, help is available from I’m Alive. It is a chat-based service for people who are in a mental crisis.
- Hotlines for Teens (PDF): This link provides a resource document that can help you find a hotline specific to your needs.
- NEDA: Contact the Helpline: The National Eating Disorders Association website offers information about the counseling offered via the helpline.
- Talk to Someone Now: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has both a phone number and an online chat option for those who are considering suicide.
- Lifeline Crisis Chat: View information about online and phone-based lifelines to help people with suicidal thoughts.
- Get Help Now: The Trevor Project offers suicide counseling over the phone, via online chat, and by text message.
- Crisis Text Line: Find support through text message for free, 24/7.
- Promoting Children’s Mental Health: This page by the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) details its efforts to promote children’s mental health.
- Youth Advocate Programs: This link to the Resilience Advocacy Project site provides information about its youth programs, including GO Girls, a health justice program that helps adolescent girls become advocates for mental health and other issues.
- Advocacy Network: Learn more about Mental Health America’s Advocacy Network and how you can support its efforts.
- AACAP Legislative Activities: This page by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry discusses its legislative activities, including advocacy efforts.
- DBSA: Understanding Advocacy: Learn about the different definitions of advocacy and how the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is advocating for those with mental illnesses.