How Parents Can Support Teens’ Mental Health

By Kelly Burch 10/19/18

Parents play a key role in connecting teens with mental health treatment and helping them learn to live with their diagnosis.

upset teen sitting between mother and father

The parents of teenagers used to fret about whether their kids were sleeping too much or “just saying no” to drugs, but today's parents are more in tune with the mental health needs of their children, recognizing that many mental illnesses start during adolescence. 

More than 17 million American teenagers have a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder, according to USA Today, and many times parents are key in connecting these individuals with treatment and helping them learn to live with their diagnosis.

With suicide being the second-leading cause of death among people ages 10-34 in the U.S., talking about mental health with young people could very well save a life. 

Still, many parents aren’t sure what the warning signs of mental illness are, especially since teenagers are general apt to be moody and withdrawn. Parents should look for sudden changes in behavior—a quick drop in school performance, a change in sleeping or eating habits, or physical pains such as stomach issues. All of these can be signs of mental illness in teens. 

Myths and stigma about mental illness can hinder access to treatment, so it’s important to remember that mental illnesses are biological conditions, not caused by bad parenting, personal weakness or character flaws. Just like physical illnesses require expert care, so do mental illnesses.

It’s important that parents consult with professionals such as counselors and primary care physicians to get teens the help they need. Most mental illnesses that emerge during the teenage years will become lifelong conditions. Although this is scary, connecting with the best treatment as soon as possible will help teens learn to cope with their illnesses. 

Even when parents are able to identify that their child has a mental or emotional issue confronting them, it can be hard to talk about. However, talking is key. Ask your child how he or she is doing. If they’re not receptive to conversation, just try again later rather than pushing the issue. 

If you suspect that something is wrong but your child insists that he or she is fine, turn to other adults in their life, like coaches, teachers or school counselors. Ask if they’ve noticed changes or behaviors that they find concerning.

Although a medical professional may not be able to give you information about your teenager due to patient confidentiality, they are always able to listen to your concerns. 

Finally, connecting with teenagers is important for controlling and preventing mental illness. Take walks together outside or play sports. Eat dinner together. These activities allow you to connect with your teen without the pressure of a sit-down conversation. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.