Three Ways to Support Your Teen’s Mental Health

Three Ways to Support Your Teen’s Mental Health

Teens are facing more challenges than ever. There’s pressure from school, friends and social media. No wonder their mental health can suffer. You don’t have to wait until your teen is in crisis to talk about it. Talk to your teen early and often.

The need is critical. Research shows nearly half of all lifetime cases of mental illness start by age 14, says the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)leaving site icon And in the U.S., 1 in 6 young people ages 6-17 experience a mental health issue each year.

Mental illness is a common health problem. It can affect a person's thinking, feeling, actions or mood. These health problems deeply impact day-to-day living and relating to others. But many people are scared to talk about them.

Parents and others can help support young people. The key is to be intentional about engaging with them. Give them safe spaces to show their true selves. Give them a chance to talk about how they’re really doing, says NAMIleaving site icon

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leaving site icon says mentally healthy children and teens have a positive quality of life and can function well at home, in school and in their communities. They reach developmental and emotional milestones and learn healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems.

Anxiety and depression are common issues for children and teens. But they often won’t share their worries. So parents need to be on the lookout for issues.

Watch For Signs

Keep an eye out for how they’re feeling. Learn the warning signs of possible problems:

  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Missing school and/or changes in grades
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • High irritability and/or outbursts
  • Increased physical complaints, like headaches or stomach aches
  • Talking about self-harm or attempting suicide
Offer Support

Look for ways to offer the support they may need. Start by asking open-ended questions. Some questions you might try are:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • What’s going on that is causing you to feel this way?
  • What was the best part of your day?
  • What was the worst part of your day?
  • What is something you are looking forward to?
  • What is something you are worried about this week?

It’s OK if their answers seem short. The goal is to keep talking. Check in with them often.

Keep It Going

Listen to your teen. Try hard to grasp their feelings and show you care. Remember:

  • Don’t try to solve your teen’s issue. Just show them you’re actively listening. Be patient and don’t judge.
  • Avoid dismissing your teen’s feelings in any way. Be sure not to use terms like “crazy” or “dramatic” or “attention-seeking.”
  • Be caring when you respond. Empathetic responses can help your teen feel understood and more comfortable talking about difficult feelings with you. It also builds trust.
  • Try to say things like: That’s a hard feeling to cope with, but I’m here to support you through this. We can find a way through this together.

Work to help them build resilience and coping methods. Being able to deal with changes and challenges is a sign of good mental health. If the steps you take on your own aren’t enough, talk with your child’s doctor. They may be able to help or suggest a qualified therapist, counselor or psychologist.

Get Help

If a child or teen is showing signs of self-harm or suicidal behaviors, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline leaving site icon can help. You can call, text or chat 988 from anywhere in the U.S. Help is available 24/7.

Other resources:

Sources: Mental Health Conditions, leaving site icon National Alliance on Mental Illness; How to Show Up For Teenagers With Record Levels of Sadness, leaving site icon National Alliance on Mental Illness; What is Children’s Mental Health?, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023