Adolescent Mental Health – An Emerging Crisis

By Rob O’Leary - Director of Pupil Personnel - Vandalia-Butler City Schools

It is obvious that the experience of teenagers today has changed considerably in comparison to prior generations, especially in the last 15-20 years. This has led to a significant increase in the rate of anxiety, depression and behavior problems in teens, with some studies citing that anxiety and depression have doubled for teens in the last 30 years. The adolescence stage of life is a bit tumultuous for everyone. However, these changes and stresses seem to be more intensified with the rapid changes in society, family structure, and the impact of social media as today’s teens see more of what life has to offer — both good and bad — instantaneously. It appears that teens are fully immersed in the adult world with today’s technological tools without the fully developed life experiences and filters to process the information. This can and does lead to stresses the generations before them did not have to deal with. For example, when teens scour social media outlets and view pictures of social events they were not asked to be a part of, it tends to cause teens to experience undue social pressure and anxiety. Or when a teen makes a mistake or has an embarrassing moment, these events can be played out for the whole world to see. Whereas in previous generations, these things were only seen or heard by smaller groups of people.

Teenagers have always faced a host of pressures and have always exhibited behavior changes, mood swings, and ups and downs. So, it isn’t always easy to tell what normal behavior is and what cause for concern is. Hormones and stress can be the cause of occasional bouts of anxiety, depression or behavioral changes. What is cause for alarm is changes in personality, mood, or persistent behavior. This can be behavior such as prolonged: sadness, irritability, hostility, frequent crying, withdrawal from friends and family, restlessness and agitation, feelings of worthlessness, lack of enthusiasm and motivation, fatigue, loss of energy, difficulty concentrating, or thoughts of death/suicide.

Recently, the New York Times reported that adolescents are more likely to die from suicide than from auto accidents. ( This is beyond horrific and is a call to action! It is imperative to spend time with your children so that you know them and can pick up on the warning signs. If you notice persistent changes in your child’s behavior, ask how they are feeling and talk with them in a loving, non-judgmental way. Focus on listening and not lecturing. Acknowledge their feelings and make face to face conversations, without distractions, a priority. Encourage involvement with friends, teams, clubs, etc., as it is important to be involved, but work together so that they are not overinvolved (which is another cause for stress and anxiety). Make sure your teen exercises, eats and sleeps properly – nutrition, proper sleep and exercise are essential! And, please set limits on screen time as excessive computer use only increases their isolation and can lead to more anxiety and depression. When screen time goes up, physical activity and face time with friends goes down.

Teens need love and adult guidance now more than ever. Families, schools, and communities need to work together to address the dramatic increase in anxiety and depression in teens. In Vandalia-Butler City Schools, we take this very seriously and work with students, families, and community resources to address these challenges, but nobody can do it alone. It will take a broad approach to combat this challenge.

By Rob O’Leary

Director of Pupil Personnel

Vandalia-Butler City Schools

Rob O’Leary is the Director of Pupil Personnel for the Vandalia-Butler City Schools. Reach him at 415-6431 or by email at

Rob O’Leary is the Director of Pupil Personnel for the Vandalia-Butler City Schools. Reach him at 415-6431 or by email at