Does Your Teen Have an Academic Issue or a Mental Health Issue?

Freshman year of high school is a major transition period for teenagers.

With so many changes in personal and intellectual development underway, students can find themselves fighting to keep their heads above water.

Each year around this time, Signet hears from concerned parents who see their teens struggling and want to know how to support them. These parents often wonder if they are observing signs of an academic issue or a mental health concern.

The truth is that these issues often overlap. At Signet, we care about the whole student. To that end, we work to support families through not only the toughest academic challenges, but the toughest mental health challenges as well.

Signs of Anxiety and Depression in Teenagers

Identifying signs of diagnosable anxiety and depression in teenagers can be challenging. Many of the behaviors signifying these mental health issues are considered “normal” to a certain extent.

For instance, anxiety in adolescents may present as perfectionism, withdrawal, and avoidance—behaviors that most teenagers exhibit from time to time. The key is determining the root cause of these behaviors. Teenagers with diagnosable anxiety often have an underlying fear of failure. Their worries can build into a deep anxiety that doesn’t fade away.

Depression is similarly tricky to detect. The normal ups and downs of adolescence can sometimes look like depression. But keep in mind that diagnosable depression is pervasive and persists over several weeks.

Parents should be on the alert for these key signs that their teen may need mental health support:

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Pulling away from friends and family
  • Exhibiting loss of interest in usual activities
  • Having low or no energy
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried or scared
  • Performing poorly in school
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Experimenting with alcohol or drugs
  • Self-harming or having thoughts of suicide

When teenagers exhibit signs of depression or anxiety, the first step is always to consult a PCP, school counselor, or mental health professional to discuss the issue in greater depth and develop an action plan.

Teenagers experiencing a combination of academic and mental health issues may benefit from academic coaching, a service that sits at the crossroads of tutoring and therapy. Other students may have a good handle on academics but need the support of a licensed therapist. There are always options to fit a student’s unique needs.

Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

More Resources