Talking To Teens About Mental Health

(March 29, 2022)

We need to talk to teens about mental health because teens need to know they can take charge of their own mental health.  

According to the national institute of mental health (NIMH) in 2020, 31.9% of adolescents experience some type of anxiety disorder with 8.3% of them being severe.  NIMH also reported 17% of kids aged 12-17 had at least one major depressive episode.  That is essentially 1 out of every 3 kids experiencing anxiety and 1 out of every 5 experiencing a major depressive episode.  Unfortunately, only 20% of teens who have a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder receive treatment from a mental health provider.  

Teens need to know their mental health is as important as their physical health.  They need to know how to be their own advocate.  And they need to know when and where to get help.  


How do I start the conversation?

The first step is to realize this needs to be an ongoing conversation.  Check in regularly with your teen to see how they are doing.  Look for opportunities to discuss mental health.  

Which leads to the next point, be available to have these conversations.  If your teen is having a difficult time (or even just a bad day), make time to talk to them.  Create opportunities for these conversations to occur.  Food or special drinks seem to be a great way to get kids talking.  Car rides are also a great opportunity.  

Ask questions.  It is okay to be direct when it comes to checking in with mental health, it sends a message you take this topic seriously.  It is also okay to bring mental health up in a roundabout way.  You can bring up an article you recently read or discuss well-known individuals such as Simone Biles and Harry Miller who are making their mental health a priority.  

Notice when they are struggling.  Let them know you see them or that you notice changes in their moods or behaviors and that you are available to talk to them.  


What if my teen has mental health concerns? 

Take their concerns seriously, when addressing mental health, it is better to be overly cautious than under.  Even if you think their concerns may be hormone or situation specific, taking their concerns seriously encourages them to keep talking to you.

Give them your undivided attention and listen without judgment.  Talking about mental health can be hard, let them know you care about what they have to say.  

Ask your teen what they need, they may already know.  It is also okay if they don’t know and it is okay if you don’t know.  This is a great time to learn together.  


Are there warning signs I should be watching for?

You’ve talked to your teen about mental health and they say they are fine.  Now what?  Keep the conversation going, checking in with them regularly.  In addition, be on the lookout for the following warning signs.  If you notice any of them, discuss them with your teen.  If any of these behaviors persist, it may be time to seek additional help.  

  • Significant changes in eating, weight and sleep patterns
  • Anxiety that seems abnormal or excessive to the situation
  • Any self-harm behavior
  • Severe mood swings
  • Difficulty paying attention or concentrating
  • Significant changes in grades or school performance
  • Lack of motivation
  • Excessive irritability or anger


Where do I go to get additional help?

If you are concerned about your teen’s immediate safety, call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room to have them evaluated.  

If you are concerned about your child’s mental health but not their immediate safety, your pediatrician or primary care doctor is a good place to start.  They will help you decide what your next steps need to be.  You can also have your child evaluated by a mental health provider.  Your health insurance provider can give you a list of therapists that are in-network for you.  You can also contact Champaign Counseling by email or phone at 217-203-2008 to schedule an appointment.


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