Teens at Muir Wood enjoy game night

Teen Mental Health

Teen mental health problems are a significant risk for today’s families. Every day, more attention is being paid to the problem of teen mental health and substance use disorders. 

Reporting indicates that rates of teen depression, anxiety, and suicide are increasing at alarming rates. However, each day also brings new understanding and hope for young people and families facing these conditions. We are living in a time of growing challenges for families. Risk factors for the development of adolescent mental illness are growing, and finding appropriate care can be challenging. Muir Wood can help with our comprehensive teen mental health treatment & services.

While public awareness is helping to bring teen mental health issues out of the shadows, these complex disorders, if left untreated, can be difficult for parents to address. It can be difficult for parents and loved ones to distinguish between normal behavior and mental health disorders. It can also be difficult for parents to find the specialized treatment providers necessary to bring relief and ongoing care.

Founders Message for Teen Mental Health

Exceptional, Accessible Care

Adolescent mental health and substance use disorders are complicated conditions that affect every aspect of teen life and identity. Successfully treating these disorders requires comprehensive and coordinated care delivered by experienced, compassionate professionals. Providing this level of care requires the significant time, resources, and support that we provide. Muir Wood was founded on the mission to make exceptional care available to more families by being an in-network provider.

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How Do Teenagers Deal With Mental Health?

Untreated adolescent mental health problems can often lead teens to self-medicate with substances. While some families are aware that their children are consuming alcohol, marijuana, or other substances, it often comes as a surprise to parents — especially among parents of young teens.

The co-occurrence of adolescent mental health disorders and substance use disorders is so common that treatment centers like Muir Wood specialize in treating these so-called “dual-diagnosis” conditions.

What Causes Mental Health Issues in Youth?

It is important for parents to know that the misuse of drugs and alcohol is not just the result of poor choices or bad judgment. It is often an attempt to overcome the symptoms of anxiety, depression, trauma, learning disabilities, and other conditions in order to relieve discomfort and feel normal. 

Effective treatment must address the root causes of the development and perpetuation of mental health conditions to reduce the perceived need to self-medicate with substances.

The use of substances can compound mental health conditions. Drinking and using drugs to cope with undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions make the effects of mental health disorders worse, leading to a downward spiral of mental and physical health, and increased risk of academic and legal problems.

Why Adolescent Mental Health Is Important?

The teens Muir Wood treats are between the age of 12 – 17, and they have their entire lives in front of them.  In some cases, the pressure to perform at school, or win approval from peers can stunt emotional health in teens.  That is to say, young people often become overwhelmed, or negatively influenced by all they face while trying to mature in the world today.

As such, teen mental health is of the utmost importance for them to avoid common pitfalls that could set them off course in life.  Monitoring and making a concerted effort to address mental health in teens means the difference between a young person living with confidence, or one who is distraught with anxiety, fears, or concerns.  Mental health is key when it comes to teens building self-awareness, resilience, and it is critical for young people to maneuver the frequent twists and turns living a full life implies.

What Are the Most Common Mental Health Problems of an Adolescent?

Research shows that the following mental health conditions are common in teens with substance use problems:

Parents of teens with diagnosed mental illnesses can work to develop clear and open communication, motivating their children to work with doctors and therapists when their symptoms appear to be overwhelming. Some teens may resist these efforts. In that case, doctors and therapists may look for alternative ways to communicate with their young patients in an effort to best address their needs.

Mood Disorders

More adolescents and teens than ever before are reporting signs of mood disorders, which primarily include depression and bipolar disorder. There are many potential causes for the onset of these conditions in teens, including a family history of these conditions, an underlying neurological or medical problem, unresolved trauma, and more. In addition, some people experience depression and bipolar mood disorders simultaneously, which can increase treatment complexity.

Mood disorders can be difficult to identify and address without specialized help. Parents who believe that their child may be experiencing depression or bipolar disorders should seek advice from their pediatrician or a mental healthcare provider. At Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services, mood disorders are thoughtfully diagnosed and treated holistically through a combination of psychiatry, psychotherapy, milieu, and experiential therapies. The ability of the Muir Wood Care Team to treat and observe clients over time in a residential treatment setting allows care to be optimized and helps clients develop the skills to manage these chronic conditions successfully.

Behavioral Disorders

Adolescents and teens experiencing behavioral disorders — also may also be referred to as or be associated with adjustment disorders — may appear unable to pay attention, lash out in anger or defiance, or display thoughts and actions that make it hard for them to engage in normal activities like school and socialization. While emotions like anger, frustration, and inattention are normal aspects of human behavior, people living with behavioral disorders exhibit these emotions and act upon them for extended periods without being able to control them voluntarily. Some common behavioral disorders include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder.

It is crucial for parents and guardians of children displaying signs of behavioral disorders to seek professional help. Untreated behavioral disorders can put the person experiencing the condition and their loved ones at risk of physical harm. Many people living with untreated behavioral disorders can develop substance use disorders by attempting to self-medicate the symptoms of their conditions with alcohol or other substances. Intensive professional treatment and ongoing care from providers experienced with safely addressing behavioral disorders is often the best path to reducing symptoms of these conditions and restoring long-term function.

Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are potentially serious conditions that may increase the potential for dangerous or damaging behaviors and relationships. The two most common types of personality disorders are antisocial personality disorder (APD), and borderline personality disorder (BPD). 

People who experience antisocial personalities may demonstrate a lack of regard for other people’s feelings, safety, and well-being. Adolescents who start fires and are cruel to animals may be showing signs of antisocial personality disorder. It is important for parents who believe that their children may be affected by this disorder to seek help as untreated APD may increase the likelihood of criminal misconduct and eventual imprisonment or endangerment. While antisocial personality disorder is difficult to treat, regular psychotherapy from a provider with experience treating the condition can be effective.

A borderline personality disorder is characterized by significant fluctuations in mood that may last for extended periods. People with BPD have difficulty regulating their emotions and may have polarizing views about people or situations. Fear of being abandoned is a common symptom, as is difficulty maintaining relationships. Some symptoms of BPD may appear similar to those of depression, including negative self-image, self-harm, dissociation, and feeling empty inside. BPD can be challenging to diagnose and treat, but symptoms can be relieved and controlled using regular psychiatric and psychotherapeutic care from experienced care providers.

Eating Disorders

It is increasingly more common for young people to suffer from an eating disorder. Research indicates that this may be due to any number of issues. An increased amount of media images celebrating a specific body image is a common challenge for many teens. Both boys and girls struggle with the same self-esteem issues such as feeling small or fat. They may think that if they could just alter their body type, they would be able to get the girl, get the guy, make the team, or impress their friends – or enemies.

If an eating disorder is a problem for your teen, don’t wait to get help. Often, drug abuse is a part of the issue as well. Crystal meth, Adderall, and cocaine are often used for a metabolism boost to lose weight. Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are often used by people who want to increase their sports ability. In fact, many abuse steroids to bulk up or stimulant drugs to lose weight. 


People experiencing psychosis are unable to determine what is real and what is imagined. Some psychotic episodes may include hallucinations or delusions like hearing voices or sounds or seeing things that are not actually there. Some people remember their psychotic experiences while others do not. There are numerous possible causes for psychotic experiences, including brain injury, the effects of unresolved trauma, genetic predisposition, illness, and fever, and use or misuse of medications or other substances.

Some teens being treated for substance use and mental health conditions may have experienced a psychotic episode as a result of using substances. Misuse of prescription medicines, high-potency THC products, and alcohol can cause psychotic episodes. Not all treatment providers are equipped to help people experiencing psychosis. A careful psychiatric assessment is needed to identify if patients need inpatient hospitalization before receiving other levels of care.

Suicidal Ideation

Rates of suicidal ideation among adolescents and teens have been increasing at an alarming rate in recent years. Nationwide, teens and their families are experiencing long waits in hospital emergency rooms under suicide watch while waiting for a psychiatric hospital bed to become available. The problem of teens contemplating suicide or harboring thoughts that the world would be better off without them may be linked to the sharp rise in depression and anxiety diagnoses. Numerous stress factors, including the pressure to perform at school, the effects of social isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and increased worry about political, environmental, and economic peril and uncertainty, are thought to be key contributors.

Suicidal ideation is a serious, life-threatening situation that must be addressed as soon as possible. Parents who discover that their child is having thoughts of ending their own lives or have a plan to do so should seek immediate help by calling the suicide prevention hotline (800-273-8255), calling 911, going to the hospital emergency room, or speaking with their child’s doctor to be evaluated as soon as possible. Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services can treat adolescents and teens who experience suicidal ideation after that patient has been medically stabilized and no longer poses a risk to themselves or others. In addition, the Muir Wood care team can help determine if a client requires specialized care for suicidal ideation before attending its program and may refer clients to a higher level of care if they experience suicidal ideation during treatment at Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services.


When young people hurt themselves on purpose, this behavior is often an attempt to self-soothe, relieve mental anguish symptoms, or submit to compulsion. Common forms of self-harm include cutting with sharp objects, pulling out hair, burning the skin, or inflicting other forms of bodily pain. The physical pain caused by self-harming is often a distraction from psychological pain and may cause a state of euphoria in some people. Substance use often co-occurs with self-harm, and the misuse of substances for people who self-harm increases the risk of developing substance use disorders.  

It can be difficult for parents or others to identify the signs of self-harm because they are often hidden by covering injuries with clothing, makeup, or other means. Contrary to popular belief, self-harm does not necessarily indicate a suicide gesture or suicidal ideation. However, self-harm is a serious condition that indicates underlying problems and requires immediate medical attention and treatment. Self-harm is a behavioral problem often caused by underlying mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Unaddressed trauma may also lead to self-harm behaviors. Helping people stop the perceived need for self-harm takes a comprehensive approach, including education, psychotherapy, psychiatric medicine, and other supportive therapies.

Risk-taking Behaviors

Sometimes, teens and adolescents engage in behaviors that pose risks for serious negative consequences. Some risk-taking behaviors affecting adolescents include misusing substances, consuming alcohol, engaging in unprotected sex, doing physically dangerous activities that could result in severe injury or death, and more. There is no finite list of risk-taking behaviors, and the level of potential risk associated with these behaviors varies based on numerous factors. Risk-taking may indicate underlying social or physiological problems, including substance use disorders and mental health disorders. It is important for mental healthcare providers to understand the types of risk-taking behaviors young people engage in and how these behaviors may be linked to a behavioral health diagnosis. It can sometimes take time for experienced clinicians to identify how risky behavior plays a role in an overall diagnosis.

Mental health conditions can run in families

Some mental illnesses tend to run in families. For that reason, it may be appropriate for teens with known genetic predispositions to discuss mental health issues even if they don’t have a mental illness themselves but are at risk of developing one in the future.

Some parents find it helpful to discuss their own struggles with mental illness, so their teens will know what to look out for and when to ask for help before any mental health issues lead to substance misuse. 

How Can Adolescents Improve Mental Health?

The teenage years are formidable.  This is a critical time in young people’s lives when they are cultivating emotional habits, learning social skills and developing ways to cope with various stressors life throws their way.  

Fortunately, adolescents can learn skills and coping strategies that not only help them manage the anxiety inherent in being a teenager – they can also adopt healthy habits that will improve mental health and stabilize them throughout their lifetime.  

There are various ways teens can improve overall mental health.  These healthy solutions include activities such as getting regular exercise, getting plenty of sleep, avoiding too much screen time (excessive time in front of smartphones, computers, or video games), and adopting a healthy, nutritious diet regime.

Other constructive tactics teens can take to improve mental health include developing a quality of inner awareness.  To explain, when a teen goes within, and begins to identify the emotions within themselves, they are more equipped to modify or change those emotions.  Teens can also be mindful about cultivating better interpersonal skills, and they can make concerted efforts to handle problems while not being consumed by them.

In many instances, teens can benefit from undergoing short or long-term therapy. They can also benefit from counselors or behavioral coaches to teach them how to be more mindful about their emotions.  If you search for “adolescent mental health facilities near me” your results should provide you with certified counselors, therapists, behavioral health centers, or psychiatrists that could provide solutions for you and your child in improving mental health.

Muir Wood sees the big picture — comprehensive teen health

At Muir Wood residential treatment centers for youth mental health,  we understand the correlation between mental health disorders and substance abuse. We work to dispel outdated assumptions about substance use disorder, keeping the focus on the bigger adolescent health picture instead. We strive to reduce the stigma still associated with mental health issues and substance use disorder which helps break down barriers to seeking treatment. 

Additionally, Muir Wood provides a comprehensive aftercare program for substance abuse, as well as aftercare programs for teens and their families once they leave our residential treatment center.  Our different aftercare programs ensure that healthy habits are maintained even after residential treatment is completed.  Moreover, aftercare is critical to ensure teens remain on the right path early out of treatment as well as long into the future.

What Are the Various Treatment Methods for Mental Illness?

The most common treatment for adolescent mental health issues is talking to a trained mental health professional.  Teens who struggle with mental instabilities often find it cathartic and helpful to talk to someone other than their friends or parents.  

Known as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy and counseling can be incredibly effective when conducted by a licensed therapist or psychiatrist, such as found at Muir Wood.  Teens can benefit from one-on-one sessions with a Muir Wood professional and they can also be improved by group therapy. Whether behavior therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step programs, group therapy, or private sessions at Muir Wood, teens can find relief and clarity just by talking about how they are feeling.

Other treatments for mental illness offered by Muir Wood include adventure and experiential therapies.  These treatments encourage teens to experience nature, get physically active, or engage in creative activities. For instance, our adventure therapies include activities such as hiking and horseback riding.  Very often, teens can connect with nature or animals and gain a sense of purpose.  

Our experiential therapies promote creativity through music, art, or crafts.  This type of therapy promotes a sense of accomplishment when teens realize that they are learning new skills and they achieve satisfaction upon completing a creative project.  

In some cases, prescription medications might be required to treat mental illness in teens. While medication isn’t a cure, they can certainly provide relief for teens who either suffer from imbalances or who are struggling to manage mental states.  

For teens, medications are best considered as a last resort. However, Muir Wood has licensed, accredited psychiatrists and an expert psychopharmacologist on staff in the event medications are needed as a supplement to teen therapy.  Furthermore, if medications are part of multifaceted treatment.  Teens are always monitored, and psychotherapy is always applied in tandem with medications.

Struggling teens are good kids asking for help

The teens at Muir Wood are often struggling to find connection, identity and a sense of belonging. What many of them lack most of all is self-esteem. 

Our Founder, Scott Sowle adds, “I’ve worked with thousands of teens over thirty-two years. Many of the teens we’ve had at Muir Wood are some of the brightest, most creative, and thoughtful kids you would ever meet. The idea that kids who act out or use drugs and alcohol are bad kids, is simply unfair. At their authentic core, most of the teens we see at Muir Wood are simply struggling to find connection and sense of belonging.”


Why Parents Choose Muir Wood

Detection and Treatment

While the signs of some mental health and substance use conditions can be easily spotted, others are hard to identify. Some signs parents and guardians can look for include sudden changes in behaviors or attitudes, changes in friend groups, a drop in grades, discontinuation of sports or other extracurricular activities, changes in spending habits, lethargy or loss of motivation, and more. In some cases, parents may find drug paraphernalia, missing household prescription medications, or hidden alcohol that signifies substance use and a potential problem. It can be difficult for adolescents and teens to feel open about speaking with their parents about their problems.

Parents who suspect that their children may be experiencing mental health or substance use disorders should seek professional help. A child’s primary care provider is often a good place to start. School guidance counselors may also help determine if a child’s behavior is normal or dysfunctional. Several levels of care and treatment options exist for adolescents and teens requiring behavioral health treatment. Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services provides the residential level of care and coordinates an array of integrated treatment services that target specialized treatment plans that meet the needs of each individual client. Muir Wood also provides in-depth assessment services like neuropsychological testing to identify potential learning needs and other neurological issues that may be causes of behavioral health issues.

Teen Mental Health FAQs

How Many Teens Have Mental Health Issues

According to the latest statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 5 teens within the US struggle with at least one type of mental health issue.  That’s roughly 49% of American teens who are challenged with some kind of mental disturbance.  

With that said, not all of these reported cases are considered illnesses that require medication such as bipolar, or schizophrenia.  For instance, according the National Institute of Mental Health, 31% of teens struggle with anxiety disorders. Teens go through periods of depression, disruptive stress levels, social dysphoria, or other emotional turmoil.  Other mental issues may include disordered eating, substance use disorders, or trauma. 

Considering the prevalence of mental health disharmonies in teens, and the myriad of ways mental illness may manifest, it is always advisable to obtain a mental health test for teens. This will provide clarity as to what exactly your teen is grappling with as well as inform medical professionals about the right treatment for your teen.

How to Support a Child With Mental Health Issues

One of the best ways to support children with mental health issues is to be attentive, actively listen, and maintain an open, honest dialog with them.  Of course, in heated moments of conflict or anxiety (in both you and your child), this can be easier said than done.  Mental issues can manifest in unpredictable ways, and it can be challenging to “keep your cool” sometimes.

That said, there are effective techniques that have proven helpful when supporting a teen with mental unrest.  For example, you can be a mental health role model for your child. This means practicing healthy mental habits such as breathing deeply through stress, going for walks, practicing mindfulness, eating well, and practicing other daily habits that reinforce self-respect and self-love.  Leading by example is far more demonstrative and effective than the “do as I say” route when it comes to improving mental stability in your child.

A proven way to support kids and teens with mental health issues is to seek professional help.  Very often, parents get “stuck in the middle” leaving them either overwhelmed or ineffective in providing the help their children need.  Moreover, troubled teens need an outside party to talk to and share with. 

This does not negate the importance of parental guidance. However, sometimes teens need an unbiased person to express themselves to.  The best adolescent inpatient mental health facilities, such as Muir Wood, provide a safe haven where professionals are impartial and removed from the situation a teen is going through.  In many cases, this is the best way to support a child struggling with mental health issues.

What Are the Signs of Mental Health in Teenagers?

Because every teen is different, it can be difficult to pinpoint the telltale signs of mental health imbalances without a mental health education or background.  Nevertheless, some potential danger signs of mental health imbalances include: 

  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities your teen used to enjoy
  • Withdrawing from family, friends, or social gatherings
  • A sudden drop in grades or poor academic performance
  • Unusual behavioral changes such as aggressiveness, excessive isolation, disruptive behavior and/or radical moodiness
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Secretive behavior, sneaking about, or withholding information

These are just a few signs to watch out for, but your teen may display other behaviors or signs not mentioned here. The key is to stay observant and attentive to your child.  If you suspect mental health issues, try to open a dialogue with your child.  Continue to be supportive, and seek help if the issues feel beyond your control, or your child continues to spiral without improvement.  At Muir Wood, we are here to listen, help, and be a part of the solution when it comes to your teenager’s recovery and ultimate mental health wellness.