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Effects of Treatment on Teenagers with Mental Illness

Updated on April 24, 2016
Teenage mental illness is life changing
Teenage mental illness is life changing | Source

Teenage years can be a somewhat trying time for parents, with hormones on the rampage and moods fluctuating at the drop of a hat. Our little angels can become increasingly opinionated and difficult to please, leaving us feeling discouraged and frustrated. Some of the unwelcome behavior of teenagers is normal and parents tend to have to accept that fact, but if your son or daughter has a deeper psychological problem that warrants professional help, then read on, as this article is meant for you.

There are many reasons that your teenager may have been diagnosed with a mental health problem. Here are some of the more common disorders that are diagnosed:

  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Attention deficit/hyperactive disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Phobias
  • Conduct disorder
  • Personality disorders

Many adolescent mental health problems go undiagnosed, usually because parents and schools interpret the problems as “part of growing up”. It isn’t unusual for a crisis to develop before seeking professional help. According to Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMH), 10% of 5-16 year olds have a diagnosed mental health disorder. This figure may be grossly underestimated, when you consider how many children may not be seen by a doctor for evaluation.

There appears to be some confusion about the age at which a child is considered to be an adult, in mental health services in the UK. The age range can differ across the country, with some services treating 16 and 17 year olds as adults, and others taking up adult care at the age of 18 years.

Difficulty of Diagnosing Mental Illness in Teenagers

Getting a diagnosis for your adolescent may not be as easy as you imagine. You see behavior that concerns you and know that something is very wrong. Some parents will hope it goes away, or they may not have a good relationship or rapport with their child.

Getting to the root of the problem may be more difficult if communication is bad or the parent simply isn’t supportive.

You may have a very difficult time as a parent, if you can not get your teen to accept there is a problem that warrants professional advice. This is how so many do slip through the net. Typically an adolescent may be argumentative or obstructive when you try to help, and frankly it is difficult to physically make him/her attend an appointment for a professional opinion.

The fact is that parents will sometimes have to wait until their son or daughter is willing to see a doctor, or sadly, until a crisis arises that gets the attention of school/college, the hospital, or in some cases the police. This is all a very difficult time for parents as well as the adolescent.

Video on Teenage Mental Health

Effects of Mental Illness Diagnosis

When everyone is co-operating, and a diagnosis is made, it can be alarming for all of the family. To suddenly have to deal with an anorexic, depressive, anxiety ridden or psychotic teenage son or daughter, can be extremely worrying and disruptive. The implications of their diagnosis can have a far reaching effect on:

  • Family life
  • General relationships
  • Social life
  • School/college
  • Employment
  • General wellbeing
  • Attitude towards life
  • Personal safety
  • Dependency
  • Self-esteem
  • Confidence

Try to imagine a young man of seventeen who has just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia for example. Up to this point he may have had dreams about his future, how he saw it panning out. He may be in further education or have just found employment. He will usually have a circle of friends who he socializes with on a day to day basis. He may even be in an established relationship and feel relatively happy with his life. The diagnosis will have a profound effect on all of these things.

Even if depression isn’t the primary diagnosis, teenagers can become somewhat depressed as a reaction to having to live with a mental health disorder. Suddenly they can feel more isolated as they may not want to disclose the problems to friends. They may feel embarrassed and even resist talking about it with family. The self-isolation that can result can go on to have a counter productive effect and make the illness worse.

Effects of Psychotropic or Psychiatric Medications

Some of the medications used in psychiatry are extremely potent and whilst this can appear to help the mental illness, it can also cause further problems. If there is low mood or depression as part of the diagnosis, there is always the worry that an overdose may be attempted or they may abuse the medication in some way. A teenager may already have a drug or alcohol related problem in an attempt to cope with their everyday life. If you add psychotropic drugs to the equation, there is great concern for their wellbeing and safety. Of course it would be wise in most cases, for parents to oversee the use of medications, but as we can expect in older teenagers years, this may be met with hostility.

Medications often Cause Sedation

Psychiatric medications can cause tiredness
Psychiatric medications can cause tiredness | Source

Psychiatric medications used for mental illness can have a dulling effect. They can cause side effects such as lethargy and an urge to sleep much more. Imagine the knock-on effect with school or college, social life and general motivation. Not all medications will have this effect but many do. Suddenly your teenager may become much more inactive, and you may even begin to see the detrimental effects of medications by their general behavior and appearance. If you can see it, so can their friends. Their peers may not be very accepting of the differences they see. It is not unusual for someone who is diagnosed with a mental illness to lose friends.

Effects of In-Patient Care on Teenagers

It is possible that your teen will be admitted to a psychiatric unit or hospital. They may or may not be placed with adult patients, and if they are, this may feel wrong to both the patient and the parents. There are of course some specialized units for younger people, but provision is often lacking, especially in the UK.

Teenagers can be very impressionable and when they have a mental health problem they are also vulnerable. If you look at those two factors in the context of an in-patient scenario, there is further cause for concern.

Try to imagine two seventeen year old girls who happen to be in-patients together in the same place. One has borderline personality disorder and is self-harming. The other is suffering from a deep depression. They become quite friendly with each other, and confide in each other a great deal. The girl with depression might feel that the doctors, nurses and her parents don’t understand her. She witnesses the other girl harming herself within the unit (sadly it does happen,) and she observes how this behavior causes much attention from the staff. I will leave you to consider how that might pan out for the girl with depression. Many years ago I witnessed copycat behavior inside a mental hospital, so I know this happens.

Copycat behavior in teenagers is common
Copycat behavior in teenagers is common | Source

I have seen teenagers with a simple diagnosis of depression and/or anxiety disorders, copy other mental illness related behavior, and actually gain themselves new diagnostic “labels” in the process.

New friends can be made inside psychiatric hospitals or units, and for some these friendships may be lifelong. Slowly and over time, you may find that your diagnosed teenager is spending more and more time with young people who have also got a mental illness. It is partly their way of feeling like they need to belong to a group of people who will not judge them, who understand them and with whom they can be themselves without pressure. On the one hand this is a good thing, but it can create stagnation as far as progress or recovery goes. Now we have the internet and mental health forums, friends are even easier to find.

Unless your teenager’s behavior or condition is severe, it may be best to approach a private counselor or therapist. You really need a diagnosis first, but you should be aware what it means to be a patient in the mental health system. So many things change when you are part of a system that has the ability to isolate and treat but rarely cure. By seeing a therapist or counselor you can ascertain if your teenager’s problem can both be contained and improvement achieved or expected. Of course more severe mental illness should get the attention it needs by the right professional help.


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    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from UK

      Hi Sasha. Thanks for pointing that out - rectified.

      The hub was only about the effects and not supposed to be about solutions - hence the title. It is more of a 'what to expect'. Forewarned is forearmed! :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This isn't very helpful in terms of offering solutions to the problems you identified, but I suppose it is better to know what one might have to deal with than to be surprised by some of the consequences of getting a diagnosis and putting one's teen on medication. (Also, the title should say effect instead of affect.)

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks Ava

      Your story is precisely what this article is about. I too was "locked up" at 19 years old for depression! I was put into an acute ward ( long ago when the hospitals were more like asylums). In this ward I saw the most horrific things and it actually made me more ill. When the ward was short staffed I was given an extra dose of Largactil which heavily sedated me so I slept all day and all night. It's a long story but no one addressed the reasons for my depression. Thereafter I became a revolving door patient for many years. I thought the only people that really understood me were people who had mental health issues.

      Your story is a powerful one and I am glad you have shared it with us. You are absolutely right to suggest alternatives to care unless the situation is severe.Thank you.

    • Free2BeUniquelyMe profile image

      Ava Elizabeth Wisdom 

      8 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

      I have a teenage son who is simply out of control right now. I am a single mother and I truly need help. I could easily have him incarcerated, admitted to a psychiatric facility or drug rehabilation center, or send him away to a bootcamp. However, even with a degree in Psychology, everything in me tells me that "brokering the help" isn't just NOT a possible solution, but that it would do further damage and have detrimental, lasting effects on my son.

      When I was 15, my mother had me put into a psychiatric hospital for an entire month. While I was literally locked up, she allowed my friends to spend the night at my house; they sneaked out at night and drank my hidden stash of alcohol. Moreover, I wasn't mentally ill.... my mother just felt like she couldn't control me...and to this day I still feel that it was a punishment.

      While in this facility and idiot, incompetent, poor-English speaking psychiatrist visitied most days. Her visits were brief, she didn't listen to me, and treated me like a number, rather than a person. She truly knew nothing about me, nor did she care (I'm certain of this), yet she was somehow able to prescribe Prozac to me, which of course I was forced to take. And hence my eternal dependence on psychotropic drugs.

      There are two times in life when the human brain endures MAJOR metamorphoses: one is during the toddler years, and the other is during the adolescent years. So how in God's name did my 15-year-old, rapidly changing and developing brain cope with a hefty dose of Prozac? Particularly given the all the childhood trauma and abuse I had endured and was, for that matter, still enduring? Unfortunately, no one will ever know. But this I know, it's had catastrophic effects on my life.

      Oh and by the way, just like your post said, I did indeed become close, long-time friends with the other adolescents who were with me. Collectively we hated our parents, we learned oneanother's maladaptive behaviors, and firmly banned together in efforts to rebel even further than we already had. Not one of us were "crazy". Not one of us should have been there.

      In closing, I'll share that my own mother committed suicide in 2001. My mother led a normal, productive, incredible life until doctor's began prescribing her a myriad of psychotropic drugs, pain killers, hormone pills, thyroid pills, etc. etc. What do I think really killed my mother? I think that ultimately, doctors (probably with good intentions) killed my mother.

      I hope my words, will impact just one parent to seek alternatives to psychiatric in-patient care unless your child is seriously injuring himself/herself or someone else. It takes a village to raise a child. We as a nation need to rise up and learn to truly interact as a community. We all need oneanother; none of us can do all this in isolation.



    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      I understand...thanks for explaining your side of the situation. :)

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Yes I understand what you are saying too. I can only go only my own experience I wasn't given a diagnosis until my 30's of either condition so whose to say now exactly how it would have impacted my life? I understand too the problems with medication, for a long time I took medication for depression without looking for the root cause i.e. why was I depressed in the first place and what could I do to change my life from within to achieve that. Its all about balance and its good to see the other perspective on it, every insight will always help our writing too.

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks for your comment thewritingowl! You make an important point. There will always be exceptions to the rule as with anything else. For some, a diagnosis and therefore a label, can bring huge relief and the necessary action taken. I think the point that both of us try to make is that, if for example a teenager is told they have an anxiety disorder or depression, they will be medicated and in some cases be placed under a psychiatrist. In those cases, it can lead to a lifelong belief that "something is very wrong with me and I need medication to survive in this world". It's often simply not the case. If the focus was on therapy in instances like this, the mental health service could be bypassed to a large degree which would avert any chance of stigma and discrimination in the young person's life.

      A label can be life changing. I know because it caused me to be a patient for many many years. They are lost years to me now. Unnecessary lost years, and all because I was medicated first and my original personal problem causing my illness was not addressed. I was 19 years old. I don't even class it as illness now as I was reacting to a life event. People do react to life's knocks in many ways, but often it is because of this they enter a system of some appalling medications and end up losing their original focus in life. All the things I mention in this article can then ensue after diagnosis.

      The teenage years are impressionable years and we tend to believe everything a "doctor" tells us. Twelve years after diagnosis, I was told by a psychiatrist I would never work again nor would I ever be well. I did and I am, but not because of anything the system did for me. I stopped all medications and worked on my problems. Within 18 months I was completely recovered!

      Thanks again for raising the point that for some, diagnosis is vital. I would agree on the whole but it's what happens after that is a concern for me. More so when the person is young and may be only reacting to a life event.

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      As a teenager who developed Mental Illness because I had no idea I in fact had Aspergers Syndrome I would disagree with gsidley and agree with meloncauli on the issue of labeling. I think the most useful thing that could have happened to me as a teenager,a child or an adult is to be given the label of being autistic so that at last I could understand why I had always felt so different. For many confused young adults a label helps them to understand who they are and why they feel so different. They may look the same on the outside but underneath they do need treatment and support.

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      HI gsidley

      Actually I totally agree about labeling teenagers. Some teenagers actually want and like to be labeled such is their need for supportive attention. This of course can be found in therapies and in the home. That's the sadness of it; at the time of diagnosis all concerned are often blinkered to the implications of diagnosis.

      Best wishes

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 

      8 years ago from Lancashire, England

      An interesting hub on an extremely important topic.

      I believe that offering early interventions for our young people with mental health problems is arguably the most useful function our mental health services can offer. But (as we have discussed before and, I think, agreed to differ) my view is that attaching a psychiatric diagnosis to a teenager can often do more harm than good. Several diagnostic labels ("schizophrenia" for example) tell us very little about the kinds of treatment that will be beneficial as well as being a stigmatising life-sentence. Although psychiatrists often try to tell us otherwise, diagnosing someone with schizophrenia is not like diagnosing diabetes - whereas the latter immediately indicates the kind of interventions that will help (insulin for example) the former tells us very little and is largely arbitrary.

      I'd certainly echo your sentiments about keeping teenagers out of the psychiatric system if at all possible.

      Best wishes.

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Minnetonka Twin!

      Thanks for your comment. Hope you found it interesting :)

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks AdviceUnhinged! The revolving door effect can be exacerbated also by the need to be among people who understand and will not stigmatize.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      8 years ago from Minnesota

      Great information that will be helpful for your readers. The teenage years are so hard anyway and adding a mental illness and possible stigma must be difficult. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • AdviceUnhinged profile image

      Lyn Flannighan 

      8 years ago

      Good advisement. I have seen how inpatient can turn out less than favorable vs outpatient techniques. I've seen in patient admits become a product of there environment similar to what jail or prison does for petty criminals and they end up with more issues or post traumatic stress after treatment. In some cases of course inpatient works well, typically short term.

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      With lack of money and therefore resources here in the UK, I see therapy declining not being increased.

      Thanks for your comment.

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Yeah I agree, so many in Ireland too are given anti-depressants and told to get on with things when what they really also need CBT or just somebody to listen to them and help them work through their depression. Working to heal the person from within is the best way rather than just masking the problem with drugs some of which can be very addictive and hard to come off of too. Yes the teenage years are very difficult.

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Hi thewritingowl!

      Thanks for your comment. It saddens me greatly that our children/teenagers are given psychotropic drugs for some illness considered as a mental disorder, such as ADHD for example. All mental illness has two core elements in my opinion. A cognitive and a behavioral factor. Maybe not all, but some disorders would benefit from therapy being the primary treatment. In the UK, we are very quick to medicate and therapy lags well behind.

      What is alarming is that if you get depressed or overanxious as a teenager, you are labeled ( you are therefore mentally ill). Teenage years are a difficult time!

      Thanks for the vote :)

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Mental Health issues are being discussed here in Ireland a lot now so I hope it increases awareness of them. We have the highest rate of suicide among young men in the whole of Europe. As you say Depression in teenagers can also often be a symptom of another condition also. For me it was Aspergers Syndrome which often goes hand in hand with developing depression too as well as anxiety attacks or a personality disorder. I have written about these issues too in my Hubs. I know now in hindsight that I started suffering from depression even before my teens but it was not believed in Ireland then that children could get depression and professionals would not entertain the idea at all. So I was 30 before being officially diagnosed and as you say anti-depressants help but sometimes some of them can leave you so lethargic that it can actually tend to outweigh the benefits. For me Counselling was the best answer along with medication in moderation and of course awareness is key. Voted up.


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