No one would describe the typical teenager as a particularly rational creature. But some behavior is normal, while some may point to a deeper problem. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health and Children, 11 percent of youth between the ages of 9-17 have a major mental illness. That’s close to 4 million kids. A similar number suffer from less serious mental health problems. And in both cases, the problems go mostly undiagnosed.

The American Psychiatric Foundation, a charitable and educational arm of the American Psychiatric Association, has  launched a program for high schools, meant to help teachers and counselors learn to identify the warning signs of mental illness, so that they can point teenagers towards help.

The earlier the better,” says Steven A. Rubloff, executive director of the American Psychiatric Foundation. “What we know about mental illness is that the bigger the gap between detection and treatment, the poorer the results. And right now, there’s a significant delay between the onset of mental illness and detection.” The new school program, Typical or Troubled? which is underway in 73 high schools, will train those adults who normally interact with teens at school to notice some red flags.

As a parent, you can help, too. Here are some of the things to look for:

• Marked change in school performance, sleeping, and/or eating habits.

• Inability to cope with problems and daily activities.

• Many physical complaints.

• Sexual acting out.

• Depression shown by sustained, prolonged negative mood and attitude, often accompanied by poor appetite, difficulty sleeping, or thoughts of death.

• Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.

• Intense fear of becoming obese with no relationship to actual body weight, purging food or restricting eating.

• Persistent nightmares.

• Threats of self-harm or harm to others.

• Self-injury or self-destructive behavior.

• Frequent outbursts of anger or aggression.

• Threats to run away.

• Aggressive or nonaggressive consistent violation of rights of others, opposition to authority, truancy, thefts, or vandalism.

• Strange thoughts and feelings, and unusual behaviors.

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