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9 Shocking Signs of Mental Illness in Young People You Can't Ignore

Updated: Apr 18

Mental illness is a silent epidemic sweeping through the younger generation, often overlooked until it's too late. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the shocking signs that indicate a young person's battle with their mental well-being. In this article, we will explore the red flags that demand our attention. From subtle changes in behaviour to expressions of hopelessness, we will uncover the harrowing symptoms that cannot be ignored. It's time to shine a light on this hidden reality, learn how to take action, and support our young people in their journey towards recovery and resilience. With knowledge and compassion, we can make a difference in their lives.

Signs of Mental Illness in Young People

Changes in Behaviour

One of the most telling signs that a young person may be struggling with mental illness is a noticeable change in their behaviour. As parents, teachers, and friends, it's crucial that we pay attention to these shifts, no matter how subtle they may be. After all, it is often in the small details that we can uncover the deeper issues at hand.


Signs of Mental Illness in Young People

A normally outgoing and sociable teenager suddenly becoming withdrawn and isolating themselves from friends and family should raise concerns. While it's normal for young people to have moments of solitude, a prolonged and drastic change in social behaviour could be a sign of underlying mental health challenges. Similarly, a once diligent and active student starting to lose interest in schoolwork and extracurricular activities may be an indication that something more is going on beneath the surface.

Whether it's a sudden disinterest in hobbies, sports, or spending time with friends, this withdrawal points to a potentially deeper issue. Those struggling with mental illness may find it hard to motivate themselves or maintain interest in activities that used to bring them joy. Instead, they may retreat into their own world, seeking solace in isolation.

Social interactions and connections can suffer when mental illness takes hold. Young people with mental health issues may find it challenging to engage with others or feel uncomfortable in social situations. They may begin avoiding social gatherings, parties, or even simple interactions with friends and family. This withdrawal can further exacerbate feelings of loneliness, worsening their overall mental wellbeing.

If you start noticing signs of withdrawal:

To tackle these trying times, communication is key. Try to create an open atmosphere where your teen can voice their thoughts and feelings without judgment. They may not want to talk one-on-one, or may not even realise they are struggling, in these cases clubs and groups can help create a nurturing atmosphere and increase confidence in their communication.

Encourage them to express their emotions, and listen with your full attention. Remind them that they are not alone and that you are there to help. Work together to come up with a plan for navigating the mental health condition, such as attending counselling sessions or starting a journal. While providing support, also be mindful of your own emotional well-being and seek help if needed. Know that while it may be a difficult journey, there is hope, and you don’t have to face it alone.


Signs of Mental Illness in Young People

Another type of change in behaviour to watch for is an increase in risk-taking or reckless behaviour. Adolescence is a time when experimentation and boundary-pushing are common, but extreme or dangerous behaviour can be a red flag for underlying mental health issues. If a young person suddenly starts engaging in substance abuse, self-harm, or other risky activities, it's important to dig deeper and seek professional help.

Often, young individuals who are struggling with their mental health may turn to risky behaviours as a way to cope or escape from their inner turmoil.

These risky behaviours can take many forms, including:

  • Substance abuse

  • Reckless driving

  • Promiscuous sexual behaviours

  • Self-harm

  • Criminal activities

Sometimes, these actions are driven by a desire for immediate gratification or a misguided attempt to numb emotional pain. However, they can have grave consequences for the individual's well-being and safety. Risky behaviours can be a cry for help or a manifestation of underlying mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or substance use disorders. It is crucial to recognize that these behaviours are often a symptom of a deeper problem and not simply "teenage rebellion" or a passing phase.

Signs of risky behaviours:

  • Changes in social circles

  • Secretive or evasive behaviour

  • Unexplained financial difficulties

  • Truancy

It is important to approach these situations with empathy, understanding, and a willingness to help rather than judgment or panic.

Sleeping and Eating Changes

Changes in sleeping and eating patterns can also be indicative of mental illness in young people. Insomnia or excessive sleep, loss of appetite or overeating can all be warning signs that something is amiss. Paying attention to these changes, especially if they persist over time, is crucial in identifying and addressing potential mental health concerns.

Extreme changes in appetite can manifest in various ways. Some individuals may experience a dramatic increase in cravings and overeating, seeking comfort or control through food. Conversely, others may lose interest in eating altogether, leading to weight loss and possible malnourishment. Similarly, striking shifts in sleep patterns can present themselves as either excessive sleep or severe insomnia. Young people may find themselves unable to fall asleep or stay asleep, experiencing restless nights filled with worry and anxiety. On the other hand, they may struggle to get out of bed, feeling lethargic and unmotivated to engage in their daily activities.

While occasional disruptions to appetite and sleep patterns are a normal part of life, it is important to pay attention when these changes become persistent and extreme. These signs can be indicative of underlying mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or even eating disorders. Young people who are grappling with these challenges may be using food or sleep as coping mechanisms to deal with their emotional distress.

Eating disorders are extremely serious and if you have any concerns about your or a loved one's relationship with food, it is important to seek help. If you are worried that you or someone close to you might have an eating disorder, you should contact a mental health professional to discuss these feelings and symptoms. It can be difficult to talk to someone about this, but it is important to reach out and gain insight and support from professionals familiar with eating disorders. It is important to remember that help is available and that the earlier interventions are provided, the better the outcome is likely to be.

It's important to remember that young people may not always be able to articulate what they're feeling or experiencing. Instead, they may show their distress through changes in their behaviour. By being vigilant and observant, we can help identify these signs and provide the support that young people desperately need.

Persistent Sadness or Irritability

Persistent sadness or irritability is something that should never be dismissed as typical teenage moodiness, as it can often be a clear cry for help.

One of the most concerning signs of mental illness in young people is the presence of persistent sadness or irritability that seems to linger for an extended period of time. While it's normal for teenagers to experience occasional bouts of sadness or irritability, it becomes worrisome when these emotions become constant and overwhelming.

Young people who are suffering from mental illness may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and have difficulty finding pleasure in anything. This persistent sadness not only affects their emotional well-being but can also impact their physical health, academic performance, and relationships.

They may become easily agitated, quick to anger, and hard to please. It's crucial to recognize that this irritability may not be a result of typical teenage mood swings but rather a sign of an underlying mental health issue.

Persistent sadness or irritability should never be ignored or dismissed as a normal part of growing up. It's essential to approach young people with empathy, understanding, and a genuine desire to help. By acknowledging their feelings and creating a safe space for open communication, we can support them in seeking the necessary professional help and guidance.

It's important to remember that these signs don't exist in isolation. They often coexist with other symptoms amplifying the need for intervention and support.

Sudden Drop in Academic Performance

Signs of Mental Illness in Young People

A sudden drop in academic performance can be a clear sign that something is amiss with a young person's mental health. While it's common for students to experience temporary dips in their grades, a significant and sustained decline can be cause for concern. This decline may manifest as a marked decrease in test scores, missed assignments, or a general disinterest in schoolwork.

There are various mental health factors that can contribute to this decline. For example, young people who are experiencing depression may struggle to concentrate or find motivation to complete their schoolwork. Similarly, those who are battling anxiety might become overwhelmed by the pressure of academic expectations, leading to poor performance.

It's important to remember that a sudden drop in academic performance should not be viewed in isolation but rather as part of a larger pattern of behaviours and symptoms. When combined with other signs of mental illness, such as withdrawal or changes in mood, it becomes even more crucial to intervene and offer support.

Educators, parents, and caregivers play a vital role in recognizing these changes and providing the necessary resources and assistance. By working closely with the individual and their support system, it's possible to address the underlying mental health issues and help them regain their academic footing.

Frequent Physical Complaints without Medical Cause

Signs of Mental Illness in Young People

Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, muscle aches, and fatigue can often manifest as a result of mental distress. This phenomenon is known as somatization, where emotional or psychological distress takes on physical forms. When young people repeatedly complain about these physical symptoms without any identifiable medical cause, it's crucial to consider the possibility of an underlying mental health condition.

For example, a teenager who frequently complains of headaches and stomachaches may be experiencing high levels of anxiety or depression. These physical complaints might serve as an outlet for their emotional distress, as they may find it challenging to express their feelings directly. Similarly, persistent fatigue or muscle aches could be indicative of chronic stress or a mood disorder.

Recognizing frequent physical complaints without medical cause as a potential sign of mental illness in young people is vital because it allows us to provide timely support and intervention. By understanding that these physical symptoms may be manifestations of underlying mental health issues, we can take steps to identify and address the root causes of their distress.

Moreover, acknowledging and validating these physical complaints can create a sense of trust and rapport with young people, further encouraging them to open up about their emotions and seek help. It's important to approach these conversations with empathy and compassion, ensuring that they feel heard and understood.

Difficulty Concentrating or Making Decisions

Difficulty concentrating or making decisions is one such sign that often goes unnoticed or brushed aside as mere absentmindedness or indecisiveness. However, in young people, it can be a red flag for underlying mental illness.

We all experience moments of forgetfulness or struggle with decisions from time to time, but when these difficulties become persistent and negatively impact daily functioning, it's worth paying attention. Young people may find it increasingly challenging to stay focused on tasks, whether it's schoolwork, work assignments, or even social activities. They might struggle to retain information, have trouble organizing their thoughts, or find themselves easily overwhelmed by even simple decisions.

This difficulty in concentrating or making decisions can have far-reaching consequences in various aspects of their lives. It can hinder academic performance, leading to lower grades or an inability to complete assignments. In the workplace, it might result in missed deadlines, poor productivity, or even job loss. Socially, it can lead to isolation and feelings of frustration or inadequacy.

It's essential to approach young people experiencing these challenges with empathy and understanding, recognizing that their difficulties are not due to laziness or lack of effort.

When faced with a young individual who is having difficulty concentrating or making decisions, it's crucial to encourage them to discuss their concerns with a trusted adult or a mental health professional. These experts can assess their symptoms, determine if there is an underlying mental health condition, and guide them towards appropriate treatment options. Early intervention and support can make a significant difference in their well-being and overall quality of life.

Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain

Moving forward, one physical manifestation that should not be overlooked when it comes to mental illness in young people is unexplained weight loss or gain. While changes in weight can sometimes be attributed to natural factors such as growth spurts or fluctuations in appetite, drastic and unexpected shifts should raise concerns. In these cases, it becomes crucial to delve deeper and consider the potential underlying psychological challenges that may be at play.

Weight loss or gain that cannot be explained by external factors, such as changes in diet or exercise, can often be an indication of an underlying mental health condition. For instance, individuals experiencing depression may lose their appetite and subsequently lose weight. On the other hand, emotional distress or anxiety can sometimes lead to weight gain as individuals turn to food for comfort or as a coping mechanism.

Understanding the link between mental health and physical well-being is essential. As we explore the various signs of mental illness in young people, it becomes increasingly evident that a holistic approach to mental health is necessary.

With unexplained weight loss or gain being an alarming sign, it is crucial to take these issues seriously. By identifying and addressing any potential mental health concerns underlying these physical changes, appropriate interventions and treatment options can be implemented.

Signs of Mental Illness in Young People

Expressions of Hopelessness or Preoccupation with Death

Now, let's move on to another alarming sign that may indicate mental illness in young people: expressions of hopelessness or preoccupation with death.

One of the most troubling signs to watch out for is when a young person consistently expresses feelings of hopelessness or talks obsessively about death. While it's normal for teenagers to experience mood swings and occasional moments of despair, persistent and excessive feelings of hopelessness can be a red flag for a deeper mental health issue.

Expressions of hopelessness can manifest in various ways; a young person might constantly belittle their own abilities and view the future as utterly bleak. They may express sentiments such as "I don't see the point in trying anymore" or "Nothing ever gets better for me." These statements may be veiled cries for help, indicating a deteriorating mental state and an overwhelming sense of despair.

Additionally, a preoccupation with death should never be overlooked. If a young person frequently talks about dying, dwelling on morbid thoughts, or even glamorizing self-harm, it is crucial to intervene and seek professional help immediately. These conversations are not to be taken lightly, as they can signify deep emotional pain and a genuine risk of self-harm or suicidal ideation.

It is essential to approach these situations delicately and without judgment. When someone expresses hopelessness or a fixation on death, it is crucial to take their words seriously and provide them with a safe space to express their feelings. Actively listen to their concerns, validate their emotions, and let them know they are not alone.

Remember, by acknowledging their pain and providing support, you can help them take the first step toward healing. In the next section, we will discuss additional warning signs that should not be ignored when it comes to mental illness in young people.,

In conclusion, recognizing the shocking signs of mental illness in young people is crucial for their well-being. By staying vigilant and attentive, we can take the necessary steps to support them and guide them towards recovery. Engaging in open communication, seeking professional help, and prioritizing their mental well-being are key in this journey. Remember, early intervention can make a significant difference, providing them with the help they need to navigate through these challenges. As we strive to create a healthier future for our youth, let us never underestimate the power of compassion and understanding. As Maya Angelou once said, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." Together, let us do better for our young people and ensure their mental well-being.

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