Mental health during adolescence

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. As part of the development process, it is natural for adolescents to experience a variety of emotions. For example, youth may feel anxious about school or friendships, or to experience a period of depression after losing a loved one. These examples are different from mental health disorders, which affect thinking as well as emotional and behavior. Mental health disorders can interfere with regular activities such as sleeping, eating, schoolwork and relationships.


Depression is the most common mental health disorder, affecting nearly one in eight adolescents and young adults each year. Adolescents who experience symptoms of depression most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks in the year are having a major depressive episode. The number of adolescents who experienced major depressive episodes increased by nearly a third from 2005 to 2014.

Signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • An unusually sad mood
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Experiencing insomnia, or sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in food, or eating too much
  • Lack of energy and tiredness


According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 1 in 3 of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. These numbers have been rising steadily; between 2007 and 2012, anxiety disorders in children and teens went up 20%. There are physical, psychological, and behavioral signs and symptoms of anxiety.

Physical symptoms of anxiety

  • Stomach pain
  • Pounding heart
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • shaking

Psychological symptoms of anxiety

  • Racing thoughts
  • Excessive or unrealistic fear and worry
  • Confusion
  • Indecisiveness

Behavioral symptoms of anxiety

  • Avoiding social situations
  • Obsessive or compulsive behavior
  • Use of alcohol or drugs

Untreated anxiety disorders are linked to depression, school failure, and an increase in risk for substance use disorder. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, reach out to a trusted adult to share your concerns. Examples include a family member, school counselor, or faith leader. There are also a variety of professional online supports where you may learn additional information.

Strategies to cope with anxiety

  • Talk with a trusted adult or friend
  • Journal
  • Practice relaxation techniques – breathing, meditation, yoga
  • Exercise daily
  • Be creative – draw, paint, knit, etc.
  • Try relaxation apps
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Sleep 7-8 hours per night