Teen Mental Health Is Worse Than Ever. How to Help Your Child (2023)

The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(PDF) has found that teen girls are experiencing record high levels of sadness. Fifty-seven percent of girls said they feel persistently sad or hopeless. That's a 60% increase over the last decade.

The report calls for immediate investment in school mental health resources to give teens the support they need. But school isn't the only place that intervention can happen. Mental health is a crucial part of overall health and should be regularly discussed in all homes.

We know that talking about emotional or mental well-being isn't always easy. You can start by using these five tips to discuss how your child is feeling.

Why should you talk to your kids about what they're feeling?

Coping mechanisms and emotional regulation don't develop overnight. Childhood and adolescence are crucial stages where kids build their coping mechanisms and resilience. Sometimes challenges come along that children will have trouble handling, like a pandemic that changed one of the biggest parts of their lives -- school. According to a C.S. Mott Children's Hospital study, 46% of parents said they have noticed new or worsening mental health challenges in their children since the start of the pandemic.

"We know that during the pandemic, there was an increase in depression and anxiety in both adults and children, an increase in emergency room visits and an increase in suicidality in adolescents and children," saysDr. Gabrielle Shapiro, chair of the American Psychiatric Association's Council on Children, Adolescents and their Families. "This crisis creates an opportunity for parents to speak to their children about mental health so that we can erase stigma and normalize mental illness as being just like physical illness."

Though it's not just a concern isolated to pandemic times, many mental disorders like anxiety disorders, depression or other mood disorders start in childhood. According to the CDC, approximately 5.8 million children aged 3 to 17 years old live with anxiety, 2.7 million suffer from depression and 8.9% have behavioral problems.

(Video) The Troubling Reality Of The American Teenagers’ Mental Health

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When is the best time to start talking?

The million-dollar question: When should I worry about my child's mental health? Admittedly, the answer is a little complicated as your child's circumstances are unique. There is no one size fits all answer for this question.

"Mental health challenges were already the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with up to one in five 3- to 17-year-olds in the US having a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder," says Tramaine EL-Amin, client experience officer withMental Health First Aid. "Today, nearly 10% of youth under 25 experience major depression, and 75% don't receive any mental health treatment. And the impact of that is tragic. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24."

Mental health troubles affect all ages in varying ways. Because of this, it's never too early to introduce the topics in an age-appropriate way.

If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms, then it's time to talk:

  • Withdrawing from social situations or actively avoiding them.
  • Focusing on fears and worries.
  • Extreme irritability or out of control behavior.
  • Significant changes in mood or personality.
  • Changes in their grades or ability to concentrate.
  • Regression in behavior -- wetting the bed or sucking their thumbs.
  • Frequent stomach aches or headaches.
  • Destructive or self-harm behaviors.

"Start the conversation early and frequently," suggests Alvord. You want to observe their behavior and then respond accordingly, putting together an action plan to deal with the situation. As your child matures, the conversations will become more complex as their needs and understandings change.

(Video) How families can support a child's mental health | Paul Sunseri | TEDxFondduLac

5 tips for talking about mental health for kids

We've established that it's best to talk to your children about mental health topics early and as often as you see fit. But that's often easier said than done. If you don't know where to start, you can use these tips to have a healthy conversation with your child.

1. Use straightforward communication

They aren't easy conversations to have, especially when you're concerned about your child's safety. You'll need to use an immense amount of self-control and tact.

"It's important to know that showing that you're concerned about their behaviors will not make things worse; it'll help acknowledge what they've been thinking and feeling, making you both more connected. Your role isn't to diagnose your child; keep your message simple: You've noticed behaviors that you are concerned about. You want to support them," says Jennifer Rothman, senior manager of Youth and Young Adult Initiatives at the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Using a straightforward and calm communication style is essential when talking about mental health topics. Rothman also mentioned that it's important to ensure that the language and detail you got into is appropriate for your child's age and developmental stage.

You can expect to listen more than you talk. You want to avoid the urge to compare your experiences at that age to theirs. And always allow for silence during the conversation and listen.

Teen Mental Health Is Worse Than Ever. How to Help Your Child (2)
(Video) How to find help for children and teens with mental health struggles

2. Give examples and help them identify what they are feeling

Giving your children the vocabulary to identify what they are feeling is crucial. And this can start as early as board books for toddlers. There are numerous books on the market that cover topics like feelings, anxiety and self-esteem. According to Alvord, you want to help your child see the connection between their emotions, thoughts and feelings. Books are a great place to start.

Another way to give your child an example is talking through situations and how they made you feel. You want to model positive behaviors and show that sharing your feelings is good. "You want to give the big message that mental wellness is as important as physical wellness. You really can't have one without the other," saysMary Karapetian Alvord, clinical fellow of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and co-author ofConquer Negative Thinking for Teens.

You can do this at the dinner table, during their bedtime routine or any time it works for your family. The point is to make it a part of normal conversation, so they always feel comfortable bringing their thoughts and emotions to you.

3. Listen to their feelings and reassure them

During conversations with your child, you want to make sure they're comfortable and ready to share.

"Find a comfortable place to speak with your child and keep the discussion straightforward, honest, and appropriate for the developmental age of the child. Parents can reassure their children and teens that it's ok to talk about their feelings and emotions and ask questions," says Shapiro.

You should also pay close attention to how they respond to the conversation. If they are confused or upset, you can slow the conversation down. Let them ask you questions or take a break and pick the conversation up another time. The last thing you want to do is accidentally invalidate any feelings. You want them to know you hear their feelings and understand them.

According to EL-Amin, many parents fear that talking about these topics will make their children feel alienated. However, listening to their feelings and letting them know that mental health challenges are common will likely bring them relief.

(Video) 10 Signs Your Mental Health is Getting Worse

4. Ask and answer questions

Asking your child questions is the easiest way to spark the conversation about mental health. Just remember, you want to keep them simple.

Mock questions that you can ask about kids' mental health from Rothman:

  • How are you feeling?
  • Tell me more about what's happening. Maybe if I understand better, we can find a solution together.
  • Sometimes you need to talk about your feelings. I'm here to listen. What would you like to talk about?

You also need to be ready to answer the questions they ask you. Especially with young children, they will have questions -- probably quite a few. They might have questions about how they are feeling or potential treatment options. Reassure them and answer what questions you can. Remember, no one expects you to have all the answers. It's ok to say that you don't know the answer. You can find it for them or you ask someone who can.

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5. Know when to ask for help

There are times when you'll need additional support to work through certain situations. Teens will likely share less, Alvord mentions. So if your child doesn't want to talk to you, make sure you have counselors or doctors to turn to. Things can escalate to the point where you need additional help. If your child's behavior lasts for weeks or impedes their function, seeking outside help is a good idea.

Start now

You don't have to wait until there is an issue to start the conversation about mental health with your children. It's a good idea to start regularly checking in early in their lives and continue doing so. That way, mental health doesn't have to be some mountain to climb to get help; they'll feel more comfortable coming to you.

(Video) 8 Signs Your Child is Depressed (For Parents)

It doesn't have to be formal. You can ask questions to gauge their feelings. The more you talk, the less stigma there is. You want to talk often, be open and support whatever their needs are.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.


Teen Mental Health Is Worse Than Ever. How to Help Your Child? ›

A child's mental health is supported by their parents

A child's healthy development depends on their parents—and other caregivers who act in the role of parents—who serve as their first sources of support in becoming independent and leading healthy and successful lives.

Are parents responsible for their children's mental health? ›

A child's mental health is supported by their parents

A child's healthy development depends on their parents—and other caregivers who act in the role of parents—who serve as their first sources of support in becoming independent and leading healthy and successful lives.

What to do if your child is mentally unstable? ›

How can I help my child cope with mental illness?
  1. Learn about the illness.
  2. Consider family counseling that treats all members as partners in the treatment plan.
  3. Ask your child's mental health professional for advice on how to respond to your child and handle difficult behavior.

Can toxic parents cause depression? ›

Toxic parents can have negative effects on children throughout their lifespan, including mental health disorders, depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use, etc.

Is anxiety inherited from mother or father? ›

Children with generalized anxiety disorder are 3.5 times more likely to have a mother with generalized anxiety disorder. Children with social anxiety disorder are almost 3 times more likely to have a father with anxiety disorder.

What are the 5 signs of mental illness? ›

5 Warning Signs of Mental Illness
  • Changes in personality. ...
  • Changes in emotion. ...
  • Isolation. ...
  • Sudden absence of self-care. ...
  • Sense of hopelessness or feeling overwhelmed. ...
  • Warning Signs of Suicide.
Dec 17, 2020

What are the 3 most common mental disorders in childhood? ›

Facts about mental disorders in U.S. children. ADHD, anxiety problems, behavior problems, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children.

What are signs of a toxic mother? ›

Signs you might have a toxic parent include:
  • They're self-centered. They don't think about your needs or feelings.
  • They're emotional loose cannons. They overreact, or create drama.
  • They overshare. ...
  • They seek control. ...
  • They're harshly critical. ...
  • They lack boundaries.

Can controlling parents cause mental illness? ›

Controlling and over-involvement can have negative, long-lasting impacts on emotional well-being and mental health, too. Studies indicate that children and adults can experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, and high levels of stress.

What is childhood depression typically triggered by? ›

Factors associated with childhood depression include inconsistent parenting, stressful life experiences, and a negative way of viewing the world. Research suggests that parental patterns of irritability and withdrawal lead to low self-esteem in the child, and this poor self-image predisposes the child to depression.

Are you born with anxiety disorder or do you develop it? ›

Most researchers conclude that anxiety is genetic but can also be influenced by environmental factors. In other words, it's possible to have anxiety without it running in your family.

What causes high strung personality? ›

This can be caused by a number of things, including stress, lack of sleep, and frustration. People with high functioning anxiety are often high-strung and very tense. They may find it difficult to relax and wind down. This can lead to a spiral of fatigue and anxiety, as they feel like they have to be “on” all the time.

Are you born with anxiety disorder? ›

Genetic factors: GAD may run in families. Just as a child can inherit parent's brown hair, green eyes, and nearsightedness, a child can also inherit that parent's tendency toward excessive anxiety. Current research suggests that one-third of the risk of experienced GAD is genetic.

Can parents contribute to mental illness? ›

Like many illnesses and diseases, mental health disorders tend to run in the family and can be passed down from parent to child. This risk increases even more if both parents have a mental health disorder.

How controlling parents affect children's mental health? ›

Children of psychologically controlling parents are more prone to suffer from low self-esteem, and mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression15, and antisocial behavior16.

Are you responsible for someone's mental health? ›

Remember that you are never solely responsible for another person's mental health. You might feel responsible, and your friend might even be making you feel like you are the only one who understands and can help, but that isn't true.

What parents are not responsible for? ›

What You Are Not Responsible For:
  • Making Sure Your Kids Are Always Happy. Don't get me wrong—it's good for your kids to be happy overall. ...
  • Getting the Approval of Others. ...
  • Controlling Your Children. ...
  • Doing for Your Children What They Are Capable of Doing for Themselves. ...
  • You Don't Have to be Superman or Wonder Woman.

Can having a mentally ill parent cause trauma? ›

Most adults benefit greatly from having a trusted therapist who can help them process their childhood, and understand clearly how it has affected them. Since growing up with a mentally ill parent can be traumatic, it is often recommended that you find a therapist who specializes is overcoming trauma.

Is trauma at the root of mental illness? ›

Trauma can make you more vulnerable to developing mental health problems. It can also directly cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some people misuse alcohol, drugs, or self-harm to cope with difficult memories and emotions. Depending on how you're affected, trauma may cause difficulties in your daily life.

How parents negatively affect child development? ›

Effects of poor parenting on kids

The effects of poor parenting can affect a child for years, sometimes well into adulthood. Kids raised within negative parenting styles often deal with: negative self-perception and low self-esteem. control issues, such as pushing limits and boundaries to see what they can get away ...

What is a dominant mother syndrome? ›

MD. Overbearing mothers hover, criticize, and overstep boundaries, which can lead to a host of challenges for their adult children including low self-esteem, dependence, and perfectionism. These mothers may think they are doing what's best for their children, but ultimately their hovering causes harm.

What happens to children of emotionally unstable parents? ›

Being raised by an emotionally unavailable parent or guardian can lead to a life of unstable friendships, strings of failed relationships, emotional neediness, an inability to self-regulate, provide for yourself, and identity confusion.

What is intrusive parenting in psychology? ›

Intrusive Parenting: How Psychological Control Affects Children and Adolescents focuses on parental psychological control, or intrusive, inhibiting, and manipulative parental behaviors and interaction patterns that negatively affect healthy child development.

How do you help a mentally ill person who doesn t want help? ›

For example:
  1. Listen. Simply giving someone space to talk, and listening to how they're feeling, can be really helpful in itself. ...
  2. Offer reassurance. Seeking help can feel lonely, and sometimes scary. ...
  3. Stay calm. ...
  4. Be patient. ...
  5. Try not to make assumptions. ...
  6. Keep social contact.

When should you walk away from someone with mental illness? ›

As much as you might love or care for the individual, if they are emotionally, mentally, or physically abusive, it is okay to step away from the situation. Some examples of emotional, mental, and physical abuse include: Emotional & Mental Abuse: Being dissatisfied, no matter how hard you try or how much you give.

What is Skitsofrenia? ›

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects less than one percent of the U.S. population. When schizophrenia is active, symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, trouble with thinking and lack of motivation.

What age are parents no longer responsible? ›

Parental obligations typically end when a child reaches the age of majority, which is 18 years old in most states. However, check the laws of your state, as the age of majority can be different from one state to the next.

What are the 5 responsibilities of a mother? ›

To care as a mother is to cook good food, create a clean home, provide clean clothing, read to your children, teach them, include them in family life, encourage, teach and play.

At what age should a child be responsible for their actions? ›

To the legal system, the answer is clear: children have the requisite moral sense--the ability to tell right from wrong--by age 7 to 15, depending on which state they live in, and so can be held responsible for their actions.


1. We All Have Mental Health
(Anna Freud NCCF)
2. Break the Stigma Around Children's Mental Health
(Children's Hospital Colorado)
3. Why Children And Teenagers Struggle With Mental Health | Confronting Youth Mental Health Part 1/2
(CNA Insider)
4. How To Talk To Your Kid About Suicide & Mental Health | TODAY ORIGINALS
5. Teens Are In Crisis. Here’s Why. | The New York Times
(The New York Times)
6. Why you should take a break: Prioritizing mental health in schools | Hailey Hardcastle | TEDxSalem
(TEDx Talks)


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