How to tell if your teen is just moody or is experiencing a true anxiety or mood disorder. Part 2/4

by Sarah Saffold, MSW, LMSW

Connecting with our teens and staying in tune with how they are feeling is daily struggle sometimes. If you aren’t sure what to look for in your teen to know if they are just a “normal”, “moody” teen versus a teenager that may be experiencing an anxiety or mood disorder, we hope these tips on what to look out for below can help!

Moody Teen:

  1. Periods of feeling anxious, self-conscious, confused, frustrated, overwhelmed, apprehensive, or sad are completely normal. But these episodes come and go and usually relate to specific events in their lives
  2. Acting out: Of course, a teen will act out. It is going to happen. If they can eventually act in calm and composed manner when you apply consequences and can rationally discuss the matter, then you’re probably just dealing with a moody teen 
  3. Physical problems: Many teenagers experience changes in their eating habits or appetite as part of normal development. Their weight might fluctuate and they may experience some physical pains due to a growth spurt
  4. Separating from you/being in their room most of the time is normal, but you should still be hearing them communicating with friends on their phone or hear them enjoying music or a video game – the feeling of wanting to be independent from you is normal
  5. The ability to bounce back from a stressful social, school, personal situation within a normal range of time- they might be upset for a night or a couple days, but then seemingly normal again once the situation has resolved
  6. You may notice abnormal moods for a period when a menstrual cycle is coming or starting- or normal hormonal changes in a male or female, but they do not last for more than a week or two and are not happening “most of the time”

Teen with anxiety or depression:

  1. Loss of interest in prior activities, friends or interactions
  2. Changes in school performance, eating habits, sleeping habits that do not resolve within a few weeks
  3. Suicidal thoughts & self-harm: (Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death ages 15-24 -those who hide their symptoms are at greatest risk, that’s why talking about it and recognizing the symptoms early will help). Expressing self-loathing, believing that their life has no meaning and isn’t worth living, thinking and commenting about how everyone would be better off without them, writing or drawing about death, or engaging in self-harming practices are red flags for possible suicidal type thinking. Another thing to look for is if they are giving possessions away. Be sure to note: A lot of teens will say concerning comments regarding suicide in passing and it may seem like they don’t mean them – take the time to stop your child to explain how serious it is to say something like that & the steps you may need to take if they continue to talk that way. Our teens are exposed to other teens on social media who glamorize suicidal ideation and talk about it openly, which leads to them modeling this behavior.
  4. Self medicating with drugs, alcohol, vaping – all teens try substances out from time to time, but if it’s becoming a consistent pattern, it may be a sign of an issue
  5. Extreme isolation-  Even if they don’t always feel like it, your teen should still be able to enjoy spending time with others in and outside the home. If they aren’t participating in any social activities, appear chronically disconnected, have consistent trouble in relationships or aren’t reaching out to friends at all anymore, this is a sign you might be dealing with a mood disorder
  6. Acting out- Pay attention to how often they have outbursts and how they react when you apply consequences. Frequent aggression, lashing out, or disobeying are warning signs. If they react to you in a threatening manner, become reckless or out of control, and can’t calm down, you’re most likely looking at an anxiety issue or mood disorder
  7. Physical problems: When physical problems become chronic or have no apparent physical explanation, they may be signs of anxiety. Symptoms might appear as muscle tension and cramps, stomachaches, headaches, pain in the limbs and back, fatigue
  8. Is your teen having thoughts that disrupt their day or make it difficult for them to function in normal capacity? Do they talk of paranoid thoughts?
  9. Are you seeing withdrawal from normally enjoyed activities or friends because of nervousness or worry? Does the anxiety not go away with reassurance from the support in their life?

As previously talked about in our first blog post last week, anxiety becomes a problem when it’s out of proportion to the problem or doesn’t resolve. Consider reaching out for more professional help or find a support group or class to take together, like this one offered at the Center for Mindfulness & CBT: Cultivating a Mindful Life with your Daughter.

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