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Most Common Mental Illnesses Among American Teens

Most Common Mental Illnesses Among American Teens

Within the last several decades, mental illness has become an epidemic problem of national concern in America. This notion is even more evident when it comes to American teens. According to the reputable folks at, as much as 20% of American teens currently suffer from at least one mental illness. And, while 1 in 5 of our country’s teenage demographic suffering from a mental illness is disturbing, the fact that a rather dismal 4% of our entire health budget is spent on mental health makes this issue even more concerning.

Unfortunately, in addition to being overwhelmingly prevalent, mental illnesses among American teens are also diseases that go mostly ignored. This societal indifference is largely thanks to the fact that our society finds it convenient to ignore a highly stigmatized illness that many personally choose to keep hidden from the public — in other words, ‘out of public’s sight, out of public’s mind.’

In short, it is up to the parents and treatment facilities, like that of Elevations RTC, to take a stand and fight back against our nation’s most troubling trend of unsuccessfully treating the mental illness within our nation’s impressionable, vulnerable, and unfairly stigmatized youths.

Elevations Residential Treatment Center is Here to Help

The following article was created to help educate moms and dads on America’s most common, teenage mental illnesses. It is our sincerest hopes that this article will help parents become all the more equipped in knowing what to look out for, and most importantly, what steps to take if their child is one of the 20% of teens who desperately require mental health care.

After all, as the Nobel Peace Prize Winning Kofi Annan once said, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

Most Common Mental Health Disorders Affecting American Teens

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health disorders found in American teens. According to Canadian Mental Health Association (which accounts for all North American teens), 6% of North American teens suffer from an anxiety disorder at any given time. This mental disease is a socially crippling one that can encourage a teenage boy or girl to completely isolate from the rest of their peers, families, and friends —  which, of course, only exacerbates their already, inherently stressful, mental condition even further.

Normal Teenage Anxiety vs. Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is a natural human reaction that reacts to what the brain perceives to be a threat — physical or otherwise. Unfortunately for teens who suffer from an anxiety disorder, their brain’s receptors overreact to stressful situations.

If an overly anxious teen suffers from an anxiety attack, it is usually for reasons that do not include being truly threatened or being in any actual danger. Rather, when a teen feels an anxiety-induced episode, it is generally triggered by what they perceive to be a socially stressful situation. These triggering circumstances can include scenarios like: being humiliated in front of other peers, talking to the opposite sex, speaking in front of a group of people, performing in front of a crowd, taking an important test, etc. While these kinds of situations are common, teens with an anxiety disorder are devastatingly affected by circumstances that others would consider mundane and easy to handle.

When an afflicted teenage boy or girl experiences an anxiety-induced episode, they are all the more prone to feeling an overwhelming sense of what behavioral experts call a ‘ fight or flight response.’ During this fight or flight reaction, anxiety-ridden teens — whose minds perceive the situation to be imminently threatening — typically experience one or more of the following symptoms: a dramatically increased heartbeat, sweaty palms, involuntary tensing of the muscles, an adrenaline rush, queasiness in their stomach, and/or even a trembling in their hands and feet.

Anxiety disorders can effectively be treated with a combination of therapy and  (if needed) anxiety medication prescribed by a licensed psychiatrist (preferably one who specializes in adolescents).

The Most Common Anxiety Disorders Found in Teens

  • Generalized anxiety
  • OCD
  • Phobias
  • Social Phobia
  • Panic Attacks
  • Agoraphobia
  • PTSD

Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder

Editors note: ADHD used to be called attention deficit disorder, or ADD for short. In 1994, it was renamed ADHD. People might still use the term ADD to describe a type of ADHD that doesn’t involve hyperactivity.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental condition that significantly negatively affects a person’s ability to sit still, pay attention, and focus. This mental health condition is widespread among teenagers as they already have an inherent difficulty with the issues that ADHD is known to exacerbate – paying attention in class, focusing on the teacher’s instruction, etc.

As we now know, there are structural differences in an ADHD-suffering teen’s brain – namely, the areas of the brain that are responsible for controlling attention and activity. In other words, teens with ADHD have a much more difficult time with focusing and staying on task than their mentally healthy peers.

Furthermore, teens who suffer from ADHD may appear as if they are “wired” or overly stimulated on mind-altering stimulants such as caffeine or even illicit, stimulating narcotics. Additionally, teens who suffer from this condition may also have a higher proclivity for getting into trouble as their condition causes them to be more impulsive than their non-ADHD suffering peers.  Fortunately, ADHD, although serious, can be easily treated with a mixture of therapeutic counseling and prescribed medications.

Due to the ambiguous and prevalent nature of ADHD, it is a condition that can appear in a variety of different ways in the behavior of teens who suffer from it. These symptoms may include (but are not limited to): 

  • Difficulty paying attention in class or staying on task
  • Issues with completing assignments, school or otherwise
  • Misplacing or losing things
  • Making seemingly careless mistakes
  • Difficulty with sitting still or waiting
  • An immense difficulty with organizing their own life – scheduling, meeting set-dates, etc.
  • Interrupting or being intrusive while conversating
  • Feeling constantly restless
  • Talking more than what is considered socially appropriate

Depression/ Suicidal Ideation

As we all know, it is perfectly normal to feel sad or discouraged on occasion. Being sad is just as inherent to the human condition and involuntary as our inborn ability to feel physical pain. Having said that, depression is more than a feeling of sadness from time to time. Depression, rather, is a constant, nagging, and even emotionally and physically crippling condition filled with dread. Even worse, it is a mental illness that can leave or return at any moment, violently and suddenly striking those who are prone to its effects at any given time (if not all of the time).

Depression is also more than a behavioral condition that merely affects a person’s mood — it is a very volatile and serious illness that affects or drastically changes the way in which a person thinks, acts, and lives their life. Even more than that, it is a condition that drains a person’s energy, motivation, and overall ability to cope with the everyday struggles of living an otherwise, healthy and happy lifestyle.

The Severity and Potential Consequences of Untreated, Teenage Depression

Along with anxiety disorders, depression is the most prevalent mental illness amongst teens, affecting roughly 20% of all American adolescents each year. Tragically, while one-fifth of all teens (8% of whom suffer from serious depression for a year or more) suffer from a major depressive disorder, only 30% of them receive treatment for their severe, and potentially fatal, mental illness.

Depression is by far the most severe type of mental illness that affects our nation’s youth. Suicide, recently becoming the 3rd leading cause of all adolescent fatalities, has become an epidemic in and of itself. Depression is currently the leading disability for anyone over the age of five, living in the US.

Depression is also a highly stigmatized condition whose cultural stigma prevents millions of affected teens from admitting that they are suffering. This incentive to keep their condition a secret is what makes this deadly mental health disorder all the more serious and devastating — 70% of all depressed teens fail to receive the necessary psychological treatment they so desperately require in order to heal and live normally.

Considering the high likelihood that, if left untreated, depression can easily lead to suicidal ideation, it is a condition that parents need to look out for in their child’s behavior.  But most importantly, parents of a teenage boy or girl need to seek out the immediate assistance of a psychiatric professional if their child exhibits the tell-tale symptoms of any type of major depressive disorder.

Symptoms of Depression Include (but are not limited to):

  • Negative or cynical outlook on life
  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Poor concentration in school or otherwise
  • Physical symptoms such as upset stomach
  • Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Social isolation or withdrawing from usual social groups

Opting to enter a residential treatment program, like that of our highly reputable, Elevations RTC,  can provide a depressed teen with a multitude of necessary, therapeutic benefits. First, it allows them to take time away from the stresses they deal with in everyday life and focus on their own treatment and recovery. In addition, he or she will benefit immensely from being in a highly structured, safe, and supportive environment that provides frequent therapeutic interventions conducted by qualified individuals. For immediate help, please call us today

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is just one of several mental conditions that are categorized as a ‘depressive disorder.’ Also, bipolar disorder goes by multiple names, such as manic depression, manic-depressive disorder, manic-depressive illness, bipolar mood disorder and bipolar affective disorder. Despite a plethora of different identifications, these conditions are all medical terms for the same mental illness.

Bipolar disorder is classified into four distinct types: 

  1. Bipolar I
  2. Bipolar II
  3. Cyclothymic Disorder
  4. Bipolar Disorder (general, not otherwise specified)

Mental health professionals use this bipolar classification system due to the fact that bipolar symptoms greatly vary in how they affect people who suffer from the same illness. Furthermore, after a therapeutic specialist is able to identify the specific type of bipolar disorder that matches a teenager’s bipolar symptoms, they are then able to develop a specified therapeutic program, tailor-made to the teen’s individual, psychiatric needs.

The Ever-Increasing Percentage of Teens Suffering from Bipolar Disorder

According to one National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) study, it is estimated that roughly 3.9% adults in the US. have a bipolar disorder. According to the study, teens are not far behind with about an estimated 2.5% being affected by the somewhat rare, albeit highly severe, depressive disorder within their lifetime — with 2.2% meeting the criteria of bipolar disorder within a given year.

Additionally, and according to the same NIMH estimates, bipolar disorder affects older teens (3.1%) a whole one percent higher than younger adolescents (2%), which indicates that bipolar disorder is more likely to affect a teenager the closer they are to reaching adulthood.

The NIH’s profound findings state that the prevalence of bipolar disorder in teens is starting to reach the same rates as bipolar-afflicted adults — which is an ever-increasing demographic, in and of itself.

In addition to calculating the prevalence of the disorder, the NIMH researchers were also able to conclude that suffering from bipolar disorder (especially if undiagnosed or misdiagnosed) greatly increases the chances of an afflicted teen turning to substance use and other self-destructive behaviors as a means to self-medicate their overwhelming, bipolar symptoms.

Need Immediate Therapeutic Treatment for Your Teen? Call Us Today!

If you are a parent of a teenage boy or girl suffering from one or more of the mental illnesses described above, it’s crucial that you act now! Elevations RTC is a highly respected residential treatment facility for teens of all genders, ages 13 to 18, grappling with anxiety, depression, substance use, and other emotional or behavioral issues. It is our mission to effectively treat each and every student lucky enough to have found our more than reputable services.

Here at Elevations RTC, we take pride in saving the lives of those in need of our highly specialized and individualized, adolescent-centric, therapeutic treatment. For immediate assistance, please do not hesitate to call our 24-hour placement hotline at  Trust us when we say, saving your child’s life is just a phone call away!


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The Elevations Team

Want to learn more about how Elevations can guide your teen with specialized, compassionate care? Contact us today!