Recognizing Mental Health Concerns in Your Teen

Recognizing Mental Health Concerns in Your Teen

Communicating with small children is hard because often they can’t tell you how they feel. Instead, they may cry to show they are upset or get whiny when they are hungry. I remember when my kids were small and I would worry that I might miss one of their non-verbal cues, so I asked a close pediatrician friend of mine how to know if something was wrong with my children. He told me, “If they were eating, sleeping, and playing well then, they were probably doing fine.” It made sense to me at the time, but what about when our kids are older?

Raising teens often feels like having your infant or toddler back in the house because they often don’t want to communicate with words. We are left guessing with their noises, moods, and irritated behaviors. Sometimes they tell us the opposite of what is really going on. I have heard it described that raising a teen is like nailing Jell-O to a wall. How do we know if our teens are okay? How can we gauge their mental health? 

The pandemic brought on a rise in teens accessing mental health services due to the stressors brought on by lockdowns, school closures, and social isolation. A survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Texas Department of State Health Services in 2021 found that 45% of Texas high school students had symptoms of depression. That is an astonishing number and could make you worry about how your teen is coping with the world around them. However, we have a few parenting tips to assess how your teen is doing:

  • First, notice your teen’s sleeping and eating patterns. Teens generally can have some erratic sleeping and eating patterns, but it is worth noting when your teen’s patterns seem more off than usual. Are they sleeping more than usual or sleeping to avoid problems? Do they never seem to be hungry or are they eating to manage stress? These could be symptoms of something else going on they may need your parent intuition to probe deeper.
  • Next, is your teen more withdrawn, isolating themself, and avoiding social interaction? Teens find their social interaction more and more online which can make it hard to determine if they are struggling with their peer interactions. While teens spend lots of time online with friends either gaming or on social media, they also need real life interaction with their family and friends. If they are constantly avoiding family and friends and more agitated than usual, they may need your attention to determine the underlying cause.
  • Finally, are they acting out in ways that are not typical for them? Teens often have impulsive behavior that can also be defiant, but when your teen is acting out in ways that seem out of character it is worth trying to figure out what the change in your teen could be.

If you feel concerned about your teen, the first step is to have them assessed by their pediatrician at a regular office visit or well child appointment. LSCC pediatricians and other primary care providers can help with an assessment as well as provide a referral to a LSCC behavior health specialist to provide an individual plan of care for your teen.

Blog post written by Jered Benedick, LCSW 
Lone Star Circle of Care – Behavioral Health at Harker Heights

Bent, E. (2023, June 28). Mental health experts report spike in adolescent anxiety, depression. Retrieved July 12, 2023, from