Teenage Angst or Mental Health Problem?


Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar, OCD, ODD, ADHD, ADD, what does it all mean? And how can parents know what is typical teenage angst vs. a serious mental health problem?

As your sweet baby was growing and developing you probably took him for Well Baby checks and kept track of his weight and height and made sure you read all the books on developmental milestones. You would burst with pride if he talked a month earlier than average and lost sleep if he walked a few months later than you expected.

But what now? You have a teenager who seems moody, distant and changing every day. It’s not as simple anymore. It’s no longer about reaching a desirable percentile or a new skill you can cross off the list. Now it becomes about complex development that is hard to measure and even harder to talk about with your teens.

What’s normal behavior and what’s a problem?

The teen years are a great time to start asking yourself that question and getting him help if he is struggling. Half of all mental illness starts by age 14.

Here is a breakdown of several of the more common mental health disorders in teenagers:


Depression (8% of kids between 12-17 are diagnosed with depression)

There are four types of depression typical in teens:

  1. Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood (Trouble Adjusting to a phase of life)
  2. Dysthymia ( Low-grade depression lasting more than one year)
  3. Bipolar Disorder  (Characterized by very high highs and very low lows in mood)
  4. Major Depression (Persistent sadness and irritability, talk about suicide, a lack of interest in enjoyable activities and frequent reports of physical aches and pains)

Anxiety (8% of teens between 13-18 are diagnosed with Anxiety) 

There are Nine types of Anxiety Disorders:

  1. Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety (Trouble adjusting to a phase of life or a major change)
  2. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Persistent worry about a variety of things that lasts for at least six months)
  3. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Unwanted and intrusive thoughts that lead to compulsive or ritualistic behaviors)
  4. Panic Disorder (Out-of-the-blue panic attacks)
  5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Can occur when a teen experiences a life-threatening or severely traumatic situation)
  6. Separation Anxiety Disorder (Extreme anxiety when separated from a caregiver)
  7. Social Anxiety Disorder (Fear of social situations)
  8. Selective Mutism (Unable to speak in certain situations)
  9. Specific Phobias (Irrational fear of an object)

Attention Deficit Disorder (11% of children between the ages 14-17 are diagnosed)

  1. Hyperactive Type (Difficulty sitting still, can’t stop talking and struggle to complete a project)
  2. Inattentive Type (Lack focus and become easily distracted)
  3. Combo Type

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (1 to 16% of adolescents have oppositional defiant disorder)         Extreme defiance, verbal and physical aggression and spitefulness

Eating Disorders (2.7% of teens between 13-18 are diagnosed with an Eating Disorder)

  1.  Anorexia-extreme food restriction
  2.  Bulimia-binge eating and purging
  3.  Binge Eating-eating massive quantities of food without purging


When teens are coping with stress, hormonal changes, life events and circumstances, lack of sleep, and learning to deal environmental factors it can look and feel like sadness, worry, lack of focus, and changing eating patterns. Teens are notorious for being moody and having strange behavior. But if you are worried or you are watching your teen struggle, seek the help of a professional. You can consult with your teen’s doctor or make an appointment with a mental health professional to help you decide if your teen is going through normal teenage angst or there may be a more serious problem that is preventing your teen from living his best possible life.


Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own!  Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!

joy prof pic

Visit her website at : joyhartman.com

Like her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Survivingteens?ref=bookmarks



Sources Used:

SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill


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