Skip to content

Talking to Teens About Mental Health

Now more than ever before our teens and tweens are in crisis. Even before the outbreak of the Coronavirus, kids are experiencing mental health problems at a staggeringly high rate. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that teens are now experiencing more stress and anxiety than adults. Over a third of teens surveyed reported feeling both overwhelmed and depressed as a result of stress.

How are Teens Really Handling Mental Health?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health:

  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
  • 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24

Many parents are appalled to see that suicide is on the rise at an alarming rate in children, teens and young adults. If you are a parent wondering what can you do to protect your children, let’s look at some things you need to know.

Why are the Teen Years so Different?

Most people experience some difficulty during their teen years. What is it about this time frame that is so different than other life stages?

Part of what makes this stage of life so challenging is the constantly changing role you experience. As you move from child to adult there are many important decisions that you must make, which creates a great deal of stress. This has always been tough, but when you heap on the pressures of social media and our always-on world, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Another contributor to the tumultuous teenage years is something researchers discovered within the last 15 years. Two systems within the teenage brain, one that encourages us to seek out rewards and positive sensations and one that helps us with self-control, develop at a rate that creates a great deal of conflict. As the part of the brain that seeks rewards matures, the self-control portion of the brain system seems to stall. You can see how this can create disastrous results for some teens.

What is important to consider?

All of this information can leave parents feeling somewhat helpless in guiding their teens successfully through the muddy waters of the teen years. What’s important to keep in mind that while these things CAN create problems, teens can have a more positive teen experience if they have a strong support system and the resources they need to make good decisions. If parents stay informed and stay involved in their teen’s lives, they can make an impact.

The Suicide Crisis in Children and Teens

Suicide is on the rise in children and teens. It is currently the second leading cause of death in people aged 10-24. With suicide rates rising each year, parents are becoming increasingly concerned about the emotional well being of their own children. There are some important red flags to be aware of. Some include:

  • Displaying aggressive, violent, or rebellious behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Agitated or distressed behavior
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Talking or writing about suicide
  • Noticeable routine changes, such as eating or sleeping patterns
  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Being self-destructive
  • Unexpectedly giving away personal belongings
  • Dramatic personality changes
  • Showing signs of severe anxiety

If your child is displaying some of these symptoms, reach out for help.

Unfortunately, in recent years suicide claimed the lives of more than 6,000 teens and young adults in this country alone. If you have concerns about your child, don’t wait to seek help. In most cases of suicide or attempted suicide, parents report that there were warning signs that they did not act on.

How to Talk to Your Teen About Their Mental Health

Talking to your teen about their mental health isn’t always easy. Especially considering how uncomfortable some of these topics can be for both parents and their kids. If your teen has a tendency to become defensive or even squirmy when your conversations get serious, it can be a challenge.

If you have not spent much time talking with your teen about their mental health, getting that conversation started can be tricky. Knowing what to say and not say isn’t always as obvious as it might seem.

It’s so easy to put those conversations off until tomorrow, except too often tomorrow never comes. With busy schedules and so much competing for our attention, important conversations get pushed to the back burner.

5 Simple Tips For Talking to Your Teens About Mental Health

#1: Choose Your Timing

Make sure to pick a time when both you and your teen are in good spirits and have the time for a chat. Trying to catch them as they run out the door or are in a bad mood might start things off on the wrong foot.

#2: Be Open and Honest

Mental health is one of those topics that is best discussed openly and honestly. Even if it makes you a little uncomfortable try to be as frank as you can. Teens can sniff out when we are being fake. It can also be helpful to use yourself as an example.

#3: Listen First, then Offer Help

Make sure your teen understands that you are a resource for them. They can come to you whenever they need information, want to talk or have questions. By opening up that safe space for them they will feel more comfortable coming to you in the future. As parents, we often want to jump in with solutions. Take the time to just listen to what your teen is saying. Ask questions to really get a good understanding of what might be going on and what emotions are being expressed.

#4: Talk Specifically About Suicide

Don’t avoid the elephant in the room. This one is important. You might think that talking directly about suicide is going to give your teen ideas but it’s possible they have already been thinking about suicide. It’s not uncommon for kids to think about it, even when they aren’t seriously considering it. Don’t be afraid to confront this topic head on.

#5: Things to Avoid

If you know there is something that will push your teen’s buttons, steer clear at first. While this might be something you need to revisit in the future, keep the conversation calm and rational. Also, try not to cast negative judgment on what is being offered to you. By offering your negative opinion, becoming upset, casting blame, or being defensive, your teen will likely learn that sharing information with you comes at a cost. Seek to understand them and work collaboratively on figuring out next steps.

Feel Like Maybe You Could Use Some Help?

If you have an adolescent or teen showing any of the warning signs, it’s time to get help. Perhaps even after talking to your teen you still feel like you need more resources, call us for a free 15 minute phone consultation. We can either help your family or direct you to the right person.

If you are seeking help for your teen one in Colorado Springs, we are psychologists and counselors experienced in evidence-based care who specialize in helping teens and adults struggling with mental health issues.


Mayo Clinic
Amerian Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Journal of the American Medical Association