• Teenagers are at an increased risk for experiencing mental health issues, as their brains continue to develop and change throughout this delicate time in life.
  • This means it’s incredibly important for their loved ones to keep a watchful eye on them and understand red flags that might signify a serious problem like depression.
  • One red flag is a loss of interest in things once beloved; similarly, if the teen is generally withdrawn from school, work, friends, hobbies, activities, something might be up.
  • Physical changes also signify a mental health issue: if the teen shows significant changes in sleep patterns, appetite, or weight, they’re likely suffering.
  • It’s also important to pay attention to dangerous or rebellious behavior, such as heavy drinking; while it’s normal for teens to experiment, this behavior can signify or cause mental health problems.
  • Finally, if a teen appears extremely concerned or obsesses about their social circles, upcoming events, or what others think of them, then they might be experiencing anxiety.

The teen years are mystifying. Each morning, you wake up slightly different than you were the day before—as your body, your brain, your mind continues to develop and evolve. This continuous state of change makes teens unpredictable, irritable, emotional, and extremely difficult to understand. They’re more or less aliens, compared to the rest of the population!

Okay, that’s a little dramatic. But the point is that teenagers are in a rough, delicate stage of life—one that threatens their emotional and mental wellbeing. That means it’s extremely important for their loved ones to look out for them: to support their wellbeing and to take notice when something seems off. The latter isn’t always easy, considering teens are often unpredictable, irritable, and emotional, as we discussed above. However, there are some red flags to keep in mind that might signify a serious problem like the onset of depression or anxiety. Vinay Saranga M.D., a child psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry, is here to help us walk through these warning signs:

Red Flag #1: Loss of Interest and Passion

One big red flag is a sudden loss of interest in or passion for the things your teen once loved. For instance, say they love field hockey and always look forward to the start of the season; if they suddenly don’t care for the sport and neglect (or even quit) the team, this could be cause for concern. That said, you shouldn’t freak out over every little change. Saranga explains:

“While all teens experience change through puberty and that is normal, other changes are not. If your child has always liked school and all of a sudden starts skipping class or her grades suddenly decline, this could be a sign of depression or that she is being bullied perhaps. In fact, it’s not just school, but anything your teenager has a serious interest in and then suddenly loses that interest, that is a red flag. Sure, teens like everyone else can become interested in new things and less interested in others, but when there is a true passion for something and it suddenly dissipates, this is definitely worth investigated further.”

Red Flag #2: General Withdrawal

General withdrawal is another red flag. In other words, if the teen seems removed or withdrawn from their life, from…

  • School
  • Work
  • Friends
  • Hobbies
  • Extracurriculars

…then something might be up. In other words, if they “have a general blah attitude about everything,” according to Saranga, then there might be something going on. The teen might be feeling depressed or experiencing anxiety that they don’t understand or know how to manage.

Red Flag #3: Physical Changes

Physical changes may also warrant concern and signify the possibility of a serious problem. “If your teen is showing changes in sleep patterns, appetite, or weight, these could be signs that something is not right,” Saranga explains. “We’re not just talking about the usual things like teenagers wanting to stay up later as they get older or having more of an appetite. Signs there could be a serious problem would be if your teenager is all of a sudden eating very small portions, looking in the mirror all the time and has become obsessed with his or her weight, if they are more sleepy throughout the day and tend to be up most of the night.”

Red Flag #4: Dangerous Behavior

Another red flag, though a tricky one, is dangerous or rebellious behavior. Is the teen suddenly hanging out with the wrong crowd? Are they smoking? Are they drinking heavily? While experimentation is normal, this can go really wrong really fast. This behavior can signify and even cause serious mental health issues. “Many teenagers want to show their new found independence and while some behavior is normal expression, other behavior is crossing the line,” says Saranga. “If your teenager is getting involved with alcohol, drugs, smoking, sexual behavior, it’s time to intervene.”

Red Flag #5: Extreme Worry

Finally, if the teen is extremely worrisome, about upcoming events, about friends, about what their classmates think of them, then they might be experiencing anxiety. “Anxiety is a real issue for many teenagers. As their bodies change and as their social circles change, it can be difficult to cope with,” Saranga explains. “If your teenager exhibits signs of nervousness, worry, constant anticipation prior to events, negative talk and even avoidance behaviors, or are very concerned with what others think of them, this can be a sign of anxiety.”