Teenage Mood Swings – When Do I Need Professional Help?

beautiful teenager wearing green shirt not in the moodMost of us think of teenage years as the point in time to be free, to explore life, and to have friends and people around you. But, for many of us, it’s also when emotions and hormones hit and when the first symptoms of mental health disorders start to show. Teenagers are famous for mood swings, irritability, and going from one emotional extreme to the next but when does it stop being normal and when does it start indicating that something is wrong? Unfortunately, that can be a hard line to draw. Teenagers are always going to be moody. However, if you (or your teenager) are struggling, you don’t have to wait until you know something is wrong to ask for help. Teenage years are often our most vulnerable, with 1 in 7 people aged between 10 and 19 experiencing mental health difficulties.

Reaching out and asking for help can happen at any time. Most importantly, that help can be about building valuable life skills and emotional regulation that will help for the rest of your life.

At Compassion Recovery Center, we’re here to help our next generations to succeed. That means learning coping mechanisms, mental health treatment, learning to manage and regulate emotions, and working towards finding a healthy balance with mental health and treatment.

What are Mood Swings in Teenagers?

Some mood swings are completely normal and expected in teenagers. In fact, teenagers are extremely hormonal and therefore temperamental. Teens can rapidly shift mood from one minute to the next, going from happy to irritable to sad. That can sometimes mean significant and intense mood swings. However, those same mood swings can indicate deeper underlying problems.

Hormones Puberty and the resulting hormones result in mood swings. That’s why teenagers can go from being happy to slamming doors and crying in the blink of an eye. Hormones typically result in increased irritability, sadness, and frustration, sometimes for no reason. Newfound sexuality and sexual urges can also prompt this with emotions and feelings that aren’t understood or easy to act on. That can mean a teen with intense and significant mood swings.

Identity and Self Expression – Teens are also moving into a point in their lives when their identity and self-expression become important. Conflicts and contrasts with upbringing, rules, expectations, and social norms can result in significant interpersonal and interrelationship conflicts, which in turn cause more stress and more mood swings. Those changes can relate to gender, sexuality, fashion, choice of friends, political ideology, religion, and much more. Whatever they are, they will be impactful, and they can greatly impact mood and mood swings.

Stress – Teens are increasingly put under more and more stress. That’s both because of pressure to perform well in school and the “always-on” nature of social media peer pressure. Twenty years ago, you stepped outside of peer pressure when you went home. Today, that pressure continues in the form of TikTok, BeReal, and other social media platforms where teens are pressured into performing, into being perfect, into being socially accepted, and into otherwise making every part of their life about being good enough.

Neurodiversity – Most people begin to develop symptoms of mental health disorders sometime between the age of 9 and 18. This means that your teen is very likely to start showing symptoms of mental health problems. That can result in increased mood swings, difficulty controlling emotions, increased depression, and lack of interest in social life, hobbies, or friends. Sometimes you won’t be able to tell the difference between teenage mood swings and light mental health disorder or even a diagnosable neurodevelopment disorder.

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Increased Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders

a teenager with depressionAnxiety and depression are among the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder in teens. They’re also responsible for a large amount of mood swings and mood irregularities in young people For example, 9% of 12-17 year olds experienced a major depressive episode in 2004 versus 14.6% in 2022. This essentially means that more teens are actively experiencing major depressive episodes. That increase relates to the above-mentioned stress, peer pressure, social-media pressure, and mental health problems. In fact, today, an estimated 49.5% of all adolescents and teens have or qualify for a mental health diagnosis. That includes anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and much more.

Teens with mental health problems are also more likely to exacerbate other issues, including hormonal shifts, social and relationship problems, and stress at school. This means that even if you have a relatively light mental health problem, it can greatly exacerbate stress and mood swings, making it a significantly worse problem.

Symptoms of Mental Health Problems in Teens and Young Adults

The difference between a teen struggling with normal and health problems and a teen struggling with problems that require treatment can be slim. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t have to wait for problems to require treatment to ask for help managing or learning how to manage it.

However, whatever the situation, the following symptoms are always a sign that you should be looking into extra help:

  • Sleep problems such as inability to sleep, changed sleeping problems, or suddenly being tired all the time
  • Concern from teachers about grades where there was no concern before
  • Problems with food such as over or under eating
  • Changes in energy levels
  • Decreased interest in hobbies
  • Increases in anxiety and worry or prevalent anxiety
  • Low self-esteem/expressions of feeling insignificant or worthless
  • Bullying (receiving or acting)
  • Self-isolation/ no friends

These symptoms are worrying at any age. That does mean something is likely wrong and it is important to reach out and get help.

When to Get Help

Today, it’s an extremely common thing for teens to get mental health support and help. In fact, 29.8% of teens receive mental health treatment of some kind. Taking steps to get treatment for mental health problems, emotional outbursts, and mood swings is a normal and common part of life. In fact, it will give teens the tools they need to better manage those problems for the rest of their lives. Here, treatment can be:

  • Inpatient care designed to help students overcome major obstacles and mental health problems
  • Preventive care designed to prevent problems from becoming worse
  • Maintenance and management care to ensure teens stay healthy after primary treatment If someone is struggling or showing major signs of mental health problems, it’s important to get help and quickly. Often, you can work with your high school counselor to work towards a diagnosis and moving into inpatient treatment for intensive care. You can also seek out help and treatment to prevent problems and to ensure you’re on the right track to being healthy and okay.

If you or a loved one’s struggling with mental health, it’s important to talk about it. It doesn’t matter if it’s just “normal” teenage mood swings. Talking about mental health, working towards an understanding of what is going wrong, and figuring out where professional help can help can all be valuable steps in working towards healthy relationships and interactions, and setting your teen up for a healthy relationship with their emotions and their mental health – whether or not they need that treatment to okay right now.

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