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Teen Mental Health: How to Help a Teenager with Mental Health Issues

Learn how to support a child with mental health issues in this article.

Our overall wellness consists of our physical and mental health. We can break down “mental health” into relational health, emotional health, cognitive health, and behavioral health. It’s a vital part of our overall health and wellness, and it plays a big role in life satisfaction, happiness, and even life longevity. 

Yet mental health has been on a steady decline, especially since everything 2020 brought with it. Teenagers are especially susceptible to this mental health decline, with more reported cases of anxiety, depression, drug use, isolation, and suicidal ideation amongst 13–19-year-olds. 

If you are a parent of a teen, or a teen struggling with mental health yourself, there is hope. As prevalent as mental health issues are, most people do make a full recovery.

However, it is hard to heal from mental illness on your own. Especially when you’re an adolescent living with your family, having parental support is vital. Teenagers aren’t always able to put into words what it is they’re struggling with, or may not know what to do with the emotions they do recognize. As a parent, you can be a strong example of healthy behavior, a source of comfort and encouragement, and a safe place to bring their troubles to. Broaching the topic of mental health with your teenager can be hard. This guide will dive into what mental health is like for teenagers and the best ways to start conversations about it

Teen Mental Health Fast Facts

teenage mental health

Signs Your Teenager is Struggling

Teenagers are naturally prone to mood swings and dramatics. It’s normal for them to react strongly to distressing news, just to bounce back a few hours later. Angry outbursts, delinquent behavior, and frequent mood swings are nothing to be too worried about when raising a teenager. 

But with teenagers’ mental health on the decline, how can you be sure your teen’s moods are just a part of growing up and nothing more detrimental? 

Common signs your teen’s mental health is at risk include: 

  • Severe mood swings
  • Behavioral changes that seem to come out of nowhere
  • Difficulty keeping or making friends
  • Has fear or panic that does not match the situation or is crippling
  • Consistently irritable for 2+ weeks
  • Explosive anger putting themselves or others at risk 
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Self-isolation that gets in the way of doing previously enjoyed activities 
  • Increase in risk-taking behavior, like drugs, alcohol, or breaking the law
  • Complains of frequent stomach aches or headaches
  • Avoids or stops performing as well in previously enjoyed activities like school and extracurricular activities

This is not an exhaustive list. The underlying message is if you see an unexplained change in behavior or emotional pattern, ask them about how they’re doing. Listen to how they respond, and, above all, believe them. 

How can you go about supporting a child with mental health issues? Let’s find out.

How to Support a Child with Mental Health Issues

Maybe you’ve already diagnosed the problem and are working together to feel better, or maybe you think something isn’t quite right but aren’t sure how to bring up the topic of mental health with your teenager. Regardless of your situation, communication is going to be key. We understand that communicating with adolescents and teenagers isn’t always the easiest, but remember that you aren’t striving for perfection—you just want to prove that you will be there for them whenever they need you. 

Most teenagers will respond better to a conversation that they initiate. Therefore, as important as it is to ask questions and be proactive in your relationship, don’t be surprised if you don’t get much information until they come to you. 

While you’re waiting for them to open up, how else can you support your teen’s mental health? Here are some ideas:

  1. Check-in. Ask how they’re feeling and how things are going in their life. You might not get an answer, but consistently asking the question will let them know you’re serious about listening. 
  2. Listen more than talk. There is, of course, a time for advice-giving and parenting, but when starting a conversation about mental health, it’s best to just listen. Let them fill the silence. Instead of thinking about how to respond, really try to hear what they’re saying. It’s okay if you need to take some time to think about what they said and respond later. (Just be sure to tell them that.)
  3. Let them take the lead. If they come up with a solution for their mental health, try it out, even if it’s not exactly what you would have done for them. (Unless, of course, their solution is dangerous or puts others or themselves at risk.)
  4. Keep a healthy routine in your family. Teenagers pick up on the habits of those around them, and are more likely to follow along with whatever daily routine is set in place. Make it a habit to go to bed early, have healthy food options, get outside, and exercise. 
  5. Support their hobbies. One of the best things anyone can do for their mental health is to engage in their hobbies, even if they don’t quite feel like it. Encourage and urge your teenager to do what makes them happy even if they aren’t feeling particularly joyful. 
  6. Take care of yourself- It may not seem like your teenager looks up to you, but they do. At least, they copy your behaviors. Children who see their parents taking care of their mental health by eating well, going to bed on time, and getting exercise are more likely to do the same. 
  7. Don’t blame or shame - 1 in 7 teenagers will develop a mental health concern, and even more will deal with non-clinical anxiety and depression. Growing up is hard, especially in today’s world. Mental health struggles are never anyone’s fault. It is often a result of uncontrollable variables. When possible, try to remind them that they are not to blame. Listen, provide empathy, and encourage them to see their own strengths in the situation. 

Teenagers strive for autonomy. Therefore, they might not respond well to your best wishes and attempts to make things easier for them. Keep your hand outstretched and let them know you’re always there, and then let them come to you. You’ll find that they might be a lot more willing to talk and be open when they’re able to initiate the conversation on their terms.

How to Have a Conversation About Mental Health

You’ve kept that hand outstretched and now it’s happening: your teenager is ready to talk about mental health. Maybe you started the conversation and they noted interest, or maybe they’re coming to you. Maybe they just had a really bad day and are in need of comfort. Whatever your situation, handling a conversation about mental health well is vital for further discussion and healing to take place. 

When a teenager comes home and has a bad day, they usually want three things: curiosity, empathy, and space. Merely putting a negative emotion into words reduces the sting of it. Teenagers are constantly juggling their desire for autonomy with their desire for support from loved ones, and a conversation about their emotions should reflect that. 

Here are our tips for having a conversation about mental health with your teenager:

  1. Let them lead: Time for advice will come later. When you’re first talking about mental health with your teenager, it’s important to fully understand their perspective and for them to feel heard. 
  2. Ask open-ended questions: Yes-no questions like “Do you feel sad?” “Are you okay?” are going to get one-word answers and possibly shut your teen down. Instead, ask questions like “How have you been?”, “What’s been on your mind?”, “What has [new change in their life] been like for you?”. 
  3. Let them fill the silence: Silences are uncomfortable and as humans, we want to fill them. If there’s a lapse in the conversation, don’t panic. Let the silence sit for a little. They might be processing something and just need a few moments to think. 
  4. Observe behavior: Don’t try to guess at their internal emotions or thoughts, instead, if you want to prompt them about a specific problem you’ve been noticing, do so by noticing something tangible and irrefutable. For example: “I’ve noticed you’ve stopped doing [x]. What happened?” or “I’ve noticed you’ve been going to bed really late, what’s been going on?” 
  5. Talk as you’re doing a different task: Sometimes confronting the issue head-on can be stressful and jarring. Instead, give them something else to focus on. Talking while you’re setting the table, doing a craft, or even shopping or driving will take the pressure off the conversation.   
  6. Don’t invade their space. If possible, talk in a neutral environment, like the living room or dining room. If you end up talking in their bedroom, make sure to ask if you can come in before. 
  7. Express understanding: “That makes sense,” or, “That sounds difficult,” can go a long way. Remember that teenagers are hyper-sensitive to judgment—perceived or otherwise. Show your understanding frequently. 
  8. Summarize: After you listen to everything they’re saying, provide a short, one or two-sentence summary. “So what I’m hearing is you’ve been so stressed about your biology class that it’s making it hard to connect with friends.”
  9. Offer assistance, but keep it open-ended. Teenagers often shun help, especially from their parents. Instead of saying “let me help you with that” ask them how they would like to be helped. “What can we do tonight to make it a little better for you?” or even a simple, “How can I help?” 
  10. Never discuss when you’re angry. If you get heated or triggered, ask for a few minutes to think and calm down. When you’re ready to restart the conversation, apologize and explain what was going through your mind and how it made you feel. Remember to keep this explanation short if possible to give them space to respond.
  11. Give honesty in return. Share your own experience with mental health and what helps you. 
  12. If they say something rude to you, acknowledge their emotion, set a boundary, encourage space, and reconvene later. 
  13. Realize it may be uncomfortable and not go well the first time. Being open about mental health can take a long time, so don’t expect one conversation to change everything. Be patient and persistent in your talks. 

Let’s put it all together: “So you’ve been trying so hard to get this right, but with all the stress from school you feel like you haven’t been given the best opportunity. (summary) That sounds really frustrating! (empathy) You’re juggling a lot right now, and it must be exhausting. (reassurance that it’s not their fault) How can I help? Or What can we do tonight to make it a little easier for you? (Open-ended questions and offering assistance)

If the conversation doesn’t go well, don’t worry. We’re all human, and maybe they weren’t quite ready. Take some time to think about the conversation. Did you talk over them? Gave them solutions when they just wanted to talk? Suggested partial blame? Remember that teenagers see the world differently, and might read malice into even the best intentions. If you note something you did that may have upset them, apologize and start again. Keep that hand outstretched.

Mental Health Tips for Teens

So you’ve had one or two conversations about your teen’s mental health, and together you’re starting to brainstorm and implement ideas to help. Here are our top five mental health tips for teens: 

  1. Get your physical needs met: Sleep, exercise, food, water, sunlight. If those five things aren’t being met consistently, mental health will continue to struggle. 
  2. Find a social outlet: Teenagers need healthy peer relations. If their school isn’t offering the opportunity to find friends, consider joining a club or group outside of school. 
  3. Find an outlet for your emotions: Teenagers often have an overwhelming amount of emotions. Sometimes the sheer weight of them is enough to cause anxiety and depression. Find an outlet to vent these emotions—art, sports, nature, meditation. It may take some trial and error. 
  4. Write down your strengths: Negative self-talk is one of the biggest symptoms of mental illness, and can be common in teenagers. Combat this by focusing on a teenager’s strengths through morning positive affirmations, journaling about their strengths, or repeating a list of their favorite qualities to themselves at night. 
  5. Empower yourself: Teenagers often feel out of control. They’re almost adults, but most of their days are already scheduled out with little input from them. It can help some teenagers’ mental health to regain their sense of autonomy. Maybe this means giving them a free day on the weekends, trusting them with their evenings, or encouraging them to choose their own classes at school.

When to Reach Out for Help

Teenagers feel emotions much more intensely than younger children or adults do. What’s more, adolescence is a tumultuous time. So when a teenager is broken up with, loses a big sports match, or gets a bad grade on a test, we expect to see some distress. Possibly even distress lasting a few days and altering behavior. This is a normal, even healthy, expression of teenage mood fluctuations. 

To understand if a mood swing is just teenage hormones or something bigger, we have to look at how they’re reacting to negative moods. Coping strategies that bring relief with no harm—such as talking to friends, distracting themselves, or problem-solving—are healthy. Yes, sometimes this means they may hole themselves in their room for a night or two. There are a few factors we can look at to see if this behavior is normal or sign of mental health concern:

  • Length: How long has your teenager been exhibiting distress? If it’s longer than 2 weeks, something more could be going on. 
  • Intensity: Teenagers can go through some intense emotions, but they should be able to regulate these emotions without causing harm to themselves or others. If aggression or self-destructive behaviors are present (such as picking fights, sabotaging their work or relationships, drugs, etc.), reach out for help. 

Is it uncomfortable or is it unbearable? Uncomfortable is fine. They still might need your support, but learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions is all a part of growing up. They’ll develop coping mechanisms from this time, and whether or not those are healthy largely depends on the example you set.

Teenage mental health needs professional help if they: 

  • Mentions or jokes about dying. “I’ll just die then.” or “Good thing you won’t miss me anyway.” 
  • Begin to give away items that they love.
  • Say goodbye to friends, including on social media.
  • Say they feel like they’re a burden and it would be better if they were gone.
  • Stop wanting to do things they used to enjoy.
  • Engages in self-harm behaviors.

If you recognize any of the signs above, confront the issue and reach out for professional help. The above are clear signs of suicidal ideation. Even if it sounds like they are joking or aren’t serious, getting help is important. Joking about dying is often a way to ask for help without knowing how to. Listen and believe them when they mention death, dying, or wanting to harm themselves. 

Mental health treatment is a powerful tool for mental health. It has been proven to be effective in treating anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, and more. If your teenager is struggling with their mental health—there is hope. Lifebulb offers expert therapy for teenagers that will meet them where they’re at with understanding, empathy, and professionalism. Don’t wait—mental health in teenagers is too important.


Suicide and Crisis Hotline: 988

Education on teenage mental health: Child Mind Institute 

Education on mental health: NAMI

Mental Health and Hotline for LGBTQ+ Youth: Trevor Project

Lifebulb’s Teenage Mental Health Therapists: Find a Therapist

Frequently Asked Questions

It can be challenging to determine on your own if your teen is struggling with mental health issues. Look for signs such as changes in behavior, mood swings, or a decline in academic performance. If you’re unsure, consider consulting with a mental health professional.

 Yes, therapy can be highly effective in helping teenagers struggling with mental health issues. Therapy can provide teens with a safe space to express their feelings, learn coping skills, and develop strategies to manage their symptoms.

 Start by opening a dialogue with your teenager and providing a supportive and non-judgmental environment. Encourage healthy habits such as exercise, sleep, and a nutritious diet. Be involved in your teen's life and offer to help them connect with a mental health professional. Most importantly, be patient and supportive throughout their journey towards healing and recovery.

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