Mental Health Changes in Adolescents

Presented By:  Drew Totten, MS, BSc, RN, CPC

November 18, 2020

The rise of mental health issues in the adolescent population is steadily increasing in the U.S. (Farley, 2020). Currently, adolescents make up 12% of the U.S. population, with a whopping 30% reporting mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. One alarming statistic is that one in five adolescents who attempt suicide have at least one mental illness. I recall a few years ago when my community lost a 12-year-old girl to suicide. Family and friends indicated that the child was severely bullied at school, was mostly isolated from friends, and was a high social media user…likely aggravating the situation.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24. Adolescence is a time of great psychological and physical change in this group (Bilsen, 2018).

Populations that are considered vulnerable include ethnic minorities, those in low socioeconomic status, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities and those with a family history of mental illness. The World Health Organization reports that half of the mental health disorders start by age 14. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health disorders in adolescence (WHO, 2019).

Many in the adolescent population age group do not have access to mental health services or are unwilling to admit they need such help. There is significant stigma associated with mental illness (Mendel, Ryan, and McKone, 2018).

The social factors that affect adolescents place great importance on peer groups and relationships. Peer rejection, conflicts, and school stress can contribute significantly to anxiety and depression (Bilsen, 2018).

So, when do we seek mental health evaluation? When one observes any of the following: loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyed; low energy; too much or too little sleep, or sleepiness throughout the day; spending more and more time alone; engaging in self-harm behaviors, such as burning, cutting, smoking, drinking alcohol, or using drugs; and thoughts or expression of suicidal intent (Boyd, 2018).

How do we help? Knowing the risk factors and detection of high-risk adolescents can prevent suicide. Don’t be afraid of having difficult conversations with the person and remember to always be genuine, kind, and willing to listen. The national suicide hotline is available at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-273-8255).

Feel free to submit your comments!




Bilsen, J. Suicide and youth: risk factors. Front Psychiatry 2018; 9: 540.

Boyd, M.A. Psychiatric Nursing: Contemporary Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer; 2018.

Farley, H.R. Assessing mental health in vulnerable adolescents. Nursing 2020, 50; 10.

Mendel, J., Ryan R.M., McKone, K.M.P. Age at menarche, depression, and antisocial behavior in adulthood. Pediatrics. 2018:141(1):1-8.

World Health Organization. Adolescent mental health. 2019.

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