Talking to Teens About Mental Health: What Adults Can Do To Help

As teenagers navigate the tumultuous years of adolescence, they often face a myriad of challenges and pressures that can impact their mental health. It is crucial for adults—whether parents, educators, or health professionals—to be equipped with the right tools and knowledge to support them. Understanding how to approach mental health discussions with empathy and awareness can significantly influence a teenager’s well-being and development.

The Crucial Role of Mental Health During Adolescence

Adolescence is not just about growing pains and high school proms; it’s also a critical period for mental health development. The World Health Organization highlights a troubling statistic: half of all mental health conditions begin by age 14, yet the majority remain undetected and untreated. Imagine a teenager whose sudden disinterest in basketball and drop in grades were the first subtle signs of depression. Such cases show how mental health issues can silently weave their way through critical aspects of a teen’s life, influencing their social interactions and academic success.

Early Signs of Mental Health Issues

Changes in Sleep Patterns

Like Emily, who started sleeping less as she worried about SATs and college applications, her parents noticed her irritability and lack of focus, which weren’t just teenage angst but signals of underlying stress and anxiety. It is crucial to recognize these disruptions early. Addressing sleep disturbances can significantly impact their mood, health, and school performance, underlining the importance of vigilance from parents and educators.

Excessive Worrying or Fear

Teen anxiety often manifests as an invisible burden, with excessive worrying that might seem irrational to outsiders. Like if a teen jumps at the sound of a text message worried it might be another cyberbully. This constant tension can prevent teens from participating in everyday activities, leading to a cycle of isolation and fear. By addressing these anxieties, we can not only help teens cope but also help them thrive.

Frequent Mood Swings

While all teens experience mood swings, those with frequent and severe mood swings may signal deeper issues, and these are worth pondering. Picture your child, a once easy-going teen who now erupts in anger over minor annoyances. Last week, he threw his phone against the wall simply because it ran out of battery. This level of emotional intensity doesn’t just disrupt his day-to-day life; it strains his relationships at home and with friends. Could this be a cue for parents and teachers to intervene more proactively?

Stay Away from Friends and Activities

Consider Lily, a child who used to always look forward to weekends at her school’s drama club. lately, she’s been finding excuses not to go to practice and stay home. This isn’t just a teenager’s problem; it’s a sign of her internal struggle. Withdrawal is a common response to underlying issues such as depression, and if left unaddressed, these issues can deepen into a profound sense of isolation. What do we need to do to take action and how can we ensure that teens like Lily are not missed?

Dramatic Changes in Behaviour or Personality

If a child was once known for being a diligent student and having a calm demeanor, but suddenly starts failing tests and picking fights. This dramatic shift is alarming and is usually a strong signal for help, signaling serious distress. This is not just a phase, but a pivot point that could determine his future. How can adults effectively intervene to provide the support needed at this critical time?

Difficulty Concentrating

Ava used to win the school science fair, but now stares blankly at her textbook and can’t concentrate. This change is not just an academic problem, but could also be a sign of a mental health issue such as anxiety or ADHD. Early intervention is key to helping teens like Ava regain focus and confidence. How can educators and parents change their approach to help students maintain or regain their academic trajectory?

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Discussing Mental Health with Teens

Mental health conversations don’t have to be intimidating or formal. Here’s how adults can ease into this delicate topic:

Encouraging Professional Help

How can mental health care be normalized? Think of it as part of your daily health maintenance routine. Just as we wouldn’t hesitate to consult a doctor about a lingering cough, we should encourage consultation with doctors about psychological issues. Qualified professionals like psychiatric nurse practitioners who have completed the requisite psychiatric nurse practitioner online program, for example, specialize in mental health and can provide therapeutic and medication support. 

Create an Open Environment

Imagine a scenario in which teens feel very comfortable sharing their feelings at home – just as they would if they were sharing news of a physical injury. What if we could make discussions about anxiety as normal as talking about a sprained ankle? This openness requires us to show genuine interest in their everyday experiences and affirm that their feelings are real and important.

Be a Good Listener

What if your child finally opens up about her school stress during a casual dinner conversation? As a parent, you shouldn’t immediately offer solutions or criticize them, but simply listen and acknowledge their struggle instead. This moment of empathy will allow your child to feel understood rather than judged. It’s a reminder that listening is sometimes one of the most helpful things we can do for someone. It can even be more helpful than any advice we can offer.

Integrating Mental Health Education into Everyday Life

Mental Health Support in Schools

Could integrating mental health education into schools be a game changer? Imagine what it would be like if every school’s curriculum included basic mental health education to equip students with the tools to deal with emotional ups and downs. Programs like the ones some schools have begun to implement not only provide education but also resources for students to seek help. Students are more resilient and better prepared to face challenges.

Using Technology Wisely

In today’s digital age, teens will inevitably turn to online platforms for help. But what kind of digital environments will they encounter? Guiding them into constructive online spaces can enhance their understanding of mental health. For example, apps that offer positive thinking exercises or forums hosted by mental health professionals can be beneficial. How can we, as adults, help them access these positive spaces?


It is crucial to open a dialogue with teens about mental health. By creating a supportive environment, actively listening, and facilitating professional help, we can have a profound impact on their mental health. By educating ourselves and others, we can contribute to a future where mental health issues are openly discussed and effectively managed.



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I'm Jethro. I'm a carpenter, and love to build things! You can find me in the garage or at work most days of the week.My sister is Crystal, who you might know from this very blog. Her son Johnny loves video games just as much as I do - so we have a lot of fun playing together!

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