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Anxiety and depressive disorders are the most diagnosed mental illness currently affecting people across the country, especially teenagers. Mental illness affects teenagers in many ways including their relationships, mood, energy levels, and academic performance. Every day, thousands of schools provide education for students, and every day millions of students with mental illness slip through the cracks and go unnoticed. With the suicide rates among teenagers gradually increasing, it’s now more important than ever for parents, teachers, and administration to be familiar with the signs of mental illness.
1. Truancy: the student is late or absent frequently
Some students don’t come to class or repeatedly show up late. Parents and faculty may think the student is a troublemaker or lazy, but in reality, he or she may be depressed. Depression can cause teenagers to feel tired and have a lack of energy. Many adults who have depression find it difficult to get up in the morning and go to work; likewise students may find it difficult to get out of bed and get to class. A student with anxiety may also find it difficult to be in large crowds which makes attending school hard. Anxiety may also cause physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches leading to increased school absences.
2. Not turning in homework
Students often have hours of homework every night; a difficult task for even the most dedicated student. A student with anxiety may over think the assignments or have elevated stress that causes him or her to give up on completing tasks. Some anxiety is effective – it’s motivates people to get things done. However, when anxiety is very high it becomes unhealthy causing the person to feel on edge and over stimulated. This can lead to low levels of concentration or cause the student to feel more easily overwhelmed. Students with depression may also have difficulty paying attention in class and may be more reluctant to ask for help. This may cause them to not understand material and feel helpless when it’s time to complete homework.
3. Spending a lot of time alone
Not everyone likes to spend time with friends at school, but if you notice that a student spends most of his or her time alone – he or she might be struggling. This could mean the student has difficulty connecting with peers or maintaining friendships. Depression can also cause feelings of worthlessness and perceived burdensomeness resulting in teens avoiding friends and social events. If you notice that a student eats alone every day or avoids groups at school, it’s time to check in with them.
4. Poor grades
Students often have poor grades for various reasons, but if a student is struggling with a mental illness their grades might be affected. Students who do not make it to class, have trouble focusing in class, and have difficulty completing assignments will reflect this in their grades. But – don’t be fooled – students with high grades may also be having trouble. These students may appear perfectionistic or set high expectations resulting in guilt and sadness when they fail to reach their goals. Another thing to note, is that a student with high test anxiety may also do poorly on tests resulting in low grades. Sometimes these students are very focused on the other people around them, noises, or fear of not completing the test in time – sometimes testing alone or increased test taking time can help with this.
5. Facial expressions and body language
Our faces and bodies can give off signals about how we feel when we can’t find the words. A student who has no facial expressions, frowns, makes little eye contact, and has closed off body language may be struggling. Even though facial expressions and body language can be a telling sign, it is not always accurate; students struggling with depression and anxiety often smile and laugh too. It’s good to check in with people from time to time just to ask how they’re doing.
6. Substance use
Teens in high school are entering the age where they might start experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Sometimes it’s nothing to worry about and other times it’s more serious. Teens who are struggling with a mental illness may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. While the teen may feel better in the moment, research shows that alcohol increases depression and drugs such as marijuana can increase anxiety. If a student is using drugs it can be a sign that they need help.
These are just a few signs that indicate a student may be struggling with a mental illness, and it is not a comprehensive list. Mental illness symptoms manifest differently in every person.
If your teenager needs someone to talk to please call the Summit Counseling Center to make an appointment with one of the licensed School-based Therapists located in Alpharetta, Centennial, Chattahoochee, Johns Creek, Milton, and Northview high school at 678-893-5300!