The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a major toll on the mental health of young people. The rapid spread of the virus and subsequent lockdown, closure of in-person classes, physical distancing and loss of social connection have been difficult for many adolescents to cope with. 

Using a database of billions of private insurance claims, researchers with FAIR Health found that people aged 13 to 22 used mental health services much more often in 2020 than in pre-pandemic 2019. This was most pronounced for teens aged 13 to 18, whose mental health claims nearly doubled over the first months of the pandemic. 

Beyond the increase in visits connected to mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder, claims for intentional self-harm and overdoses increased by over 90%.

The Census Bureau also highlighted a pandemic-related increase in mental health issues across the U.S. In their Household Pulse Survey, they found the number of people with depression or anxiety symptoms quadrupled since the pandemic began. In addition, 56% of young adults aged 18 to 24 reported symptoms of depression in December 2020, and more than a quarter reported suicidal feelings.

Types of Mental Health Issues Teens Face

When a teen is mentally healthy, they will:

  • Have the capacity to laugh and have fun 
  • Develop mutually supportive relationships 
  • Be able to acclimate to change 
  • Participate in meaningful activities 
  • Have self-confidence 

This doesn’t mean they won’t experience the ups and downs of life. However, their resilience and coping abilities should prevent life’s challenges from causing too much damage or interfering with day-to-day functioning.

Teens can also experience the full range of mental health issues, though many of them go undiagnosed and untreated. According to the World Health Organization

  • Half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 14
  • Depression is a leading cause of illness among people aged 10 to 19 
  • Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among teens aged 15 to 19

Mental Health Issue vs. Mental Disorder

Not all teens who struggle with their mental health have a diagnosable mental disorder. 

A mental disorder must meet specific criteria that persist over a specified time period, interfere with their everyday life and impact their thinking, emotions or behavior.

There isn’t a clear or single cause of mental disorders, but there are risk factors. These can include:

  • Traumatic or challenging experiences
  • Stress
  • Loneliness
  • Genetics and brain biology 
  • Substance use 

Common Mental Health Disorders in Teens

Common mental disorders that teens experience include: 

  • Depression: When a teen expresses feelings of sadness or emptiness and loses interest in the things they used to enjoy, they may be depressed. It’s not uncommon, as more than three million teens in the U.S. have experienced a major depressive episode. 
  • Anxiety: Anxiety can show up in several forms. If a teen is constantly worried about different issues, can’t focus or is unusually irritable, they may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). If they are extremely self-conscious and unable to speak up in class or engage in after-school activities, they may have social anxiety disorder.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): It’s common for OCD to start in adolescence or young adulthood. Symptoms of OCD include unwanted and intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors like counting, checking or handwashing. 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): When a teen experiences something traumatic, they may develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. These symptoms can last for months or years.
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): More than three million adolescents aged 12 to 17 are diagnosed with ADHD, which often co-occurs with behavior problems, anxiety and other disorders.
  • Eating disorders: Three common types of eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders can occur at any point in a person’s life, but most first-time cases occur by the age of 25.
  • Substance use disorder: By the end of high school, about two-thirds of U.S. students have tried alcohol and about half have used marijuana. Both of these substances can affect brain development and lead to unhealthy substance use down the line. 

See More: Psychoeducation for Mental Health Disorder 

Warning Signs 

General moodiness can be a normal part of a teenager’s development. However, mood issues can also be an indication of something more. While it’s not always easy to tell the difference, there are several common signs that tend to show up with each mental disorder.

Depression

Changes in grades and academic performance

Irritability that’s out of character

Loss of interest in social activities

Emotional numbness

Changes in energy

Weight gain or loss

Disinterest in friends or social activities

Poor personal grooming

Frequent fights or other behavioral issues

Suicidal thoughts

Anxiety

Nervousness and general worry

Fear of speaking up in class or participating in group activities

Inability to focus

Overwhelming concern about being embarrassed or criticized

Panic attacks (racing heart, tightness in chest, feeling faint, sense of terror)

Restlessness

Irritability

Aches or pains that aren’t explained by something else

Sleep problems

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Resistance to change

Taking excessive amounts of time to complete everyday routines

Intrusive and sometimes disturbing thoughts (such as fears of harming others)

Compulsive acts (needing to do something in a specific order or a certain number of times)

Redoing tasks

Excessive washing

Skin picking

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Impulsivity

Aggression

Nightmares

Flashbacks

Avoidance of reminders of the traumatic experience

Difficulty focusing

Emotional numbness

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Disorganization (for example, frequently losing items)

The frequent appearance of being lost in a daydream

Distractibility

Academic challenges (forgetting to complete assignments)

Impulsivity

Eating Disorders

Preoccupation with weight, food or calories

Restrictions against large categories of foods

Frequent diets

Refusal to eat with others

Stockpiles of food

Extreme concern about body shape or size

Fluctuations in weight

Withdrawal from friends and family

Mood swings

Substance Use Disorder

Bloodshot eyes

Eating more or less than usual

Changes in sleep patterns

Poor personal grooming

Changes in weight

Slurred speech

Relationship difficulties

Secretive or suspicious behaviors

Teen Mental Health in Ohio 

Teen mental health is a serious issue in Ohio, where suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens aged 14 to 18. The teen suicide rate is the highest in the Appalachian area, but 37 of the 88 counties in Ohio have suicide rates that are above the national average. 

In 2019, one-third of public and private high school students in the state reported feeling so sad or hopeless that they stopped engaging in activities that they normally do. That same year, more than 4,000 people died of an unintentional drug overdose in Ohio. Considering the nationwide trends, these numbers have likely risen during the pandemic. 

Treatments 

Our evidence-based treatment programs recognize the unique needs of teens and are individualized based on an in-depth evaluation. Our treatment programs include

  • Drug and alcohol detox: Detox is medically managed for safety and has a focus on minimizing discomfort.
  • Inpatient treatment: Teen clients live onsite at our residential treatment facility and attend medical visits, therapy and regularly programmed activities. 
  • Integrated mental healthcare: Substance use disorders often go hand in hand with other mental health disorders. Our holistic treatment programs will assess mental health issues and treat those simultaneously.
  • Relapse prevention: We provide therapy that’s focused on long-term recovery.
  • Rehab aftercare: Before each teen leaves the facility, we set up therapy appointments and support group meetings to ensure an ongoing commitment to recovery.

If your teen is struggling with substance use and a co-occurring mental health disorder, treatment is available. Reach out today to speak to one of our caring representatives and learn more about options that can work well for your child’s situation. 

Jonathan-Strum
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Kate-Dube
Medically Reviewed By – Kate Dube, LCSW
Kate Dubé is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and health writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read more
Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Anxiety and Depression: Household Pulse Survey.” September 22, 2021. Accessed October 1, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Data and Statistics About ADHD.” September 23, 2021. Accessed October 1, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Teen Substance Use & Risks.” February 10, 2020. Accessed October 1, 2021.

Doyle, Céilí. “’A perfect storm’: Challenges of life i[…]en’s mental health.” The Columbus Dispatch, August 26, 2021. Accessed October 1, 2021.

FAIR Health. “The Impact of COVID-19 on Pediatric Ment[…]te Healthcare Claims.” 2021. Accessed October 1, 2021.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Major Depression.” Accessed October 1, 2021.

Ohio Department of Health. “Drug Overdose.” Accessed October 1, 2021.

Panchal, Nirmita; Kamal, Rabah; Cox, Cynthia; Garfield, Rachel. “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental […]th and Substance Use.” Kaiser Family Foundation, February 10, 2021. Accessed October 1, 2021.

Saker, Anne. “Suicide in Ohio: 37 of 88 counties above[…]us could cause spike.” The Columbus Dispatch, July 6, 2020. Accessed October 1, 2021.

The Mental Health & Addiction Advocacy Coalition (MHAC). “Suicide in Ohio: Facts, Figures, and the Future.” August, 2020. Accessed October 1, 2021.

Ward, Zachary J.; Rodriguez, Patricia; Wright, Davene R.; Austin, S. Bryn; Long, Michael W. “Estimation of Eating Disorders Prevalenc[…]esentative US Cohort.” JAMA Network Open, October 9, 2019. Accessed October 1, 2021.

World Health Organization. “Adolescent Mental Health.” September 28, 2020. Accessed October 1, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.