A Parent’s Guide to Teen Mental Health
Teenagers go through lots of changes. Help your teen communicate in a judgment-free and supportive environment!
The truth is that at least 1 in 5 youth aged 9–17 years currently has a diagnosable mental health disorder that causes some degree of impairment and 1 in 10 has a disorder that causes significant impairment. The most common mental health disorders in adolescents are anxiety, mood, attention, and behavior disorders. Please don’t let the word “disorder” be a scary or negative concept. From these statistics, we realize that it is more common than we think for teens to be struggling with their mental health and potentially negative self-concepts. Let’s dive into how we can pinpoint signs of struggle so we can set our teens up with success, love, and support!
Signs that an adolescent may be having a difficult time:
- Changes in sleep — sleeping more or less hours than usual
- Irritability — being short in responses or yelling
- Disengaged from friends and activities
- Changes in appearance, hygiene, mood and/or grades
- Use of drugs or alcohol
- Depressed mood and excessive sadness partnered with tearfulness
- Loss of interest in activities
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Cut or burn marks
- Giving away prized possessions
- Loss of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Thoughts of death
- Anxiety — excessive worrying or nervousness
- Panic attacks
A parent’s approach:
Use the “Spotlight approach” in navigating your teens’ experiences and knowing when it is best to seek more resources and help for their well-being.
Problems appear manageable to your child. No more than one to two signs or indicators of difficulty (see signs of difficulty above)
Only one area of life appears to be impacted
Symptoms seem to resolve within the week with a potential resolution
What should you do? Pay attention to changes in your teen’s behavior or appearance and keep an open line of communication. Practice active listening!
- Problems may seem manageable or unmanageable to your child, but bring up concerns to you as a parent
- More than two indicators of difficulty (see signs of difficulty above)
- More than one area of life seems to be impacted
- Symptoms have not resolved within two weeks of time
What should you do? Talk with your child about your concerns and contact a mental health professional if you need additional support.
- Problems might seem manageable or unmanageable to your child, yet makes you worried about safety as a parent
- More than three indicators of difficulty are present, or one or more very serious No more than one to two signs or indicators of difficulty (see signs of difficulty above)
- Typically, more than two areas of life seem to be impacted
What should you do? If there are safety concerns, cutting, burn marks, threats of safety, suicidal thoughts and/or language, seeing things other people don’t see or hear, lack of hygiene — contact a mental health professional or emergency department right away for evaluation. (If you have safety concerns, go straight to an Emergency Department for evaluation).
Other helpful tips for parents:
- Foster independence, confidence and enjoyment for your teen. When your child is struggling, all you want to do is monitor him/her like a hawk 24/7 – we get it! Try giving your teen the freedom to continue to spend time with friends, engage in activities that they once loved, let them cook for themselves or the family, and practice responsibility in little and big ways.
- Partner with and prepare your teen for how to deal with difficult situations. Explore options together that involve how to handle tackling difficult situations like a hard test or social interaction coming up. Let’s empower and set our teens up for success instead of letting them avoid difficult situations. Now, there is grace with this and sometimes, it is best not to push them too far out of their comfort zones… you know your child best.
- Model coping and problem-solving difficult situations. Whether it looks like it or not, your kids are watching you and may be mirroring your own coping mechanisms to life’s stressors and difficulties. This could mean starting to see a mental health professional or therapist yourself, that encourages your teen to do the same.