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Talking to Teens About Mental Health

Parents talking with their teenage daughter about mental health  

Teen mental health is an important topic to discuss, as statistics show that 20% of teens have been diagnosed with a serious mental health condition during their lives. In addition, most mental health problems begin by the age of 14, so early intervention is critical. Teens may be reluctant to discuss mental health concerns with adults, but having an open conversation is necessary.

Why It Is Important to Talk About Children’s Mental Health

Being able to discuss mental health concerns with children is critical because of the stigma around mental health. Teens may be fearful of voicing their concerns with parents and trusted adults because they may worry that they will be judged negatively or teased by peers.

Having open conversations supports teenage mental health awareness, helping teens to realize that having mental or emotional problems doesn’t make them strange or unworthy. While parents may fear having a difficult conversation, they set the example for their children and help them understand that it is acceptable to talk about mental health.

Starting the Conversation With Your Teen

Common teenage mental health issues include depression, anxiety, ADHD and eating disorders. If you are aware of the symptoms of these conditions, you will be prepared to start a conversation with your teen. For example, you may notice that your teen shows symptoms of depression, such as sleeping more than usual, spending less time playing sports or being in a glum mood more often. You can start a conversation with a statement such as, “I noticed you aren’t playing basketball as much anymore. Can you tell me about that?”

You may also approach your teenager from a place of concern and say something like, “I’ve noticed you seem to be more on edge lately. What do you think is going on that is causing this?” Approaching the situation in a non-confrontational manner and coming from a place of genuine concern will show your teen that you care about their well-being and want to have an honest, nonjudgmental conversation.

It is critical to start a conversation with your teen if you notice any warning signs of teen suicide. Signs of suicide risk include:

  • Dramatic shifts in mood
  • Engaging in risky or impulsive behavior
  • Making comments about being a burden or feeling trapped
  • Researching suicide methods
  • Saying goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions

If you believe your teen is considering suicide, it is necessary to be direct with a question such as, “Are you thinking about ending your life?” Assessment from a crisis counselor or a stay in a hospital psychiatric unit may be necessary until your teen’s mental health has stabilized.

What if Your Teen Approaches You About a Mental Health Concern?

If your teen approaches you to discuss a concern with mental health, it’s likely that they’ve spent some time thinking about the issue before coming to you. Because of this, it’s important that you listen to what your child has to say without responding in a judgmental fashion. Give your teen an opportunity to do most of the talking, and be prepared to ask what sort of support your teen needs from you.

It might be helpful to ask your teen if they want to speak to a counselor about these concerns or if handling the issue as a family is sufficient. It is also important to tell your teen that it is normal to experience mental and emotional problems during the teenage years, so any concerns they are experiencing can be managed. It might also be worthwhile to express to your teen that it is difficult to talk about mental health, so you appreciate them feeling comfortable coming to you with their concerns. Avoid minimizing problems or making general statements such as, “I’m sure it will be fine.”

Discussing Mental Health Following a Diagnosis

If your teen receives a mental health diagnosis like depression or anxiety, it is important that you research the condition so you can have a productive discussion with your teen. It is helpful to know the symptoms of the disorder so you can let your teen know what to expect. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides resources that can help parents to understand mental illness. NAMI also offers support groups that help parents gain a better understanding of mental illness and be able to help their teens live with a mental health condition.

It’s also beneficial to remind your teen that they are not the only one who has experienced this sort of mental health concern as a teenager. Let them know that mental health disorders in teens are common. It is important to avoid terms like “crazy” and make sure your teen knows they have a diagnosable condition that can be treated.

Helping Teens Feel Comfortable Talking About Mental Health

Talking about mental health can be difficult for teens. Fortunately, one of the benefits of talking about mental health is that it normalizes the issue. When having a conversation about their problems, though, you should avoid asking closed-ended questions that can result in a one-word response. Rather, you can help your teen feel more comfortable by asking open-ended questions that encourage them to keep talking.

It may also be helpful to use a solution-focused approach and ask scaling questions to get teens talking. For example, you might ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rate your problem right now?” If your teen says their anxiety level is a 7, for example, you can then ask what it would take to get it to a 5 or 6. This gets your teen to start working with you to brainstorm solutions, and it shows them that talking about mental health can be effective.

Mental health conditions just involve treatable problems with the way the brain is functioning and processing information. Just like we can treat diabetes with medication, we can improve brain functioning and treat mental health with counseling and medications.

If your teen is experiencing a mental health condition and co-occurring substance use disorder, Next Generation Village is here to help. We offer comprehensive services that help to treat addictions. Our program offers a structured schedule, with treatment taking place at a scenic, lakeside facility in Florida. Contact us today to learn more about treatment plans that can work well for your teen.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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