How to Identify Mental Illness in Youth

With 50-70% of mental health disorders showing up before 18 years of age, it’s important to identify youth who are struggling as early as possible. Mental health is a complex issue that requires a coordinated effort and multilevel approach from parents, schools, health care organizations, digital media outlets, and community outreach. Early detection and intervention are needed to reach at-risk youth before conditions manifest into more serious issues.

Some of the most common signs to watch for are: 

  • Avoiding people, places, or situations they normally engage with or suddenly keeping to themselves 
  • Changes in eating patterns, feelings, or behavior surrounding food, weight, or physical appearance 
  • Changes in self-esteem or self-image
  • Decline in relationships at school, home, or with other kids
  • Decline in school or extracurricular performance 
  • Inability to sleep, relaxor concentrate
  • Deliberately hurting themselves or others
  • Inability to cope with everyday life, issues, or activities
  • Lack of regard or interest in the feelings or property of others 
  • Lack of self-care or neglecting themselves
  • New or increased use of alcohol and/or drugs
  • New or unusual physical behaviors or ailments like recurring head or stomachaches, neck pain, excess energy or nervous habits (i.e. nail biting, hair twisting, thumb sucking, odd or repetitive movements) 
  • Overreactions to relatively small incidents
  • Reduced interest in social or extra curricular activities they normally enjoy 
  • Speaking of suicide or having a preoccupation with death 
  • Sudden changes or extremes in emotion such as feeling rejected, worthless, hopeless, sad, helpless, anxious, worried, guilty/self-blaming, disillusioned, angry, or afraid 
  • Sudden or unexplained changes in behavior (i.e. an active child becomes withdrawn or a good student’s grades drop) 

Certain circumstances may also make youth more susceptible to mental health disorders. These include: 

  • A family history of mental health disorders
  • A history of previous suicide attempts
  • Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender
  • Ethnicity and societal discrimination
  • Facing or having witnessed trauma, including abuse
  • Having been the victim of, or having engaged in bullying
  • Having recently gone through a major life change (moving to a new country, city or school)
  • Substance abuse problems

How can I help?

If you’re concerned about a child, talk to them about how they’re feeling. Letting them know you care is a powerful first step in showing them they aren’t alone. For more information on how to support your child’s mental health, check out our blog post which covers the topic. 

To learn more about how to support your child’s mental health, download our free whitepapers: