How to Help a Teenager with Mental Health Issues

Published on: 21 Aug 2023
Clinically Reviewed by Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
How to Help a Teenager with Mental Health Issues

Updated on 9/8/22

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that globally, an estimated 1 out of every 7 children aged 10 – 19 has a mental health condition, and death by suicide is the 4th leading cause of death for those aged 15 – 29. Research focused on teens in the United States also found that nearly half (49.5%) of adolescents experience a mental health problem  — undeniable confirmation of just how critical the need for mental health help for teens is today.  

Knowing these statistics, it’s understandable that learning how to help a teenager with mental health issues is a pressing concern for many parents and caregivers. Understanding signs, symptoms, and coping strategies is crucial when supporting teenagers struggling. Conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, and disordered eating are not only widespread among young people, they’re also frequently missed.

The key lies in recognizing warning signs early and facilitating appropriate intervention. Continue reading to explore various ways to help teens struggling with their mental health.

Understand Teenage Mental Health Issues

Many symptoms of mental health conditions begin in adolescence. The risk factors can be genetic factors, peer relationships, trauma, or environmental stressors. 

Family history can contribute to developing conditions like bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia in teens, and studies suggest that traumatic experiences like abuse or neglect increase the risk of developing serious conditions.

Social pressures from peers, bullying, and unreasonable academic expectations imposed by schools and parents can also lead to increased stress levels, anxiety, and depression. 

Recent research links heavy social media use to poor mental health, highlighting the importance of parents or guardians monitoring a teen’s digital time, imposing limits, and providing support when needed.

“One of the first things I ask is if the teen is being bullied. Any type of bullying behavior can happen at high school, on social media, or both. Bullying is another way of saying emotional and, possibly, physical abuse. Teens are very sensitive to what their peers say and think about them, which then determines the Self. Teens’ Self-identity is formed by negative input from the bully group. A lowered Self valued person is vulnerable to depression and even suicidal thoughts.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD

Recognizing the Warning Signs

Understanding and identifying warning signs is a critical first step in getting mental health help for teens. Adolescence can be a period of intense transformation, with regular shifts in behavior, mood, and personality. However, when these shifts become severe or persist for an extended period, they may indicate underlying mental health issues.

Symptoms to watch for

Mental health conditions can manifest differently from person to person, so the best way to help teens is by learning common symptoms that might indicate your teenager could be struggling with their well-being:

  • Changes in school performance: A noticeable decline in school performance or frequent absences could suggest academic stress or social anxiety in teens.
  • Excessive worry: If you observe that your teenager’s mental health symptoms escalate into excessive worry over everyday situations lasting 6 months or more, this could point toward anxiety in teens.
  • Body image issues: Rapid weight loss and obsessive thoughts about body image might signal eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa.
  • Persistent sadness: Sadness that spans 2 weeks and is accompanied by feelings of hopelessness may hint at teen depression. If depressive symptoms are extreme or prolonged, it can lead to suicidal thoughts that need immediate intervention through crisis lifelines like National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Create a Safe & Supportive Space

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Developing a secure and encouraging atmosphere is of utmost importance as you help your adolescent tackle mental health struggles. This involves ensuring their physical well-being and fostering emotional security.

Ensure physical safety

The first step towards providing a safe space for your teen’s mental health begins with guaranteeing their physical safety. Keep substances like alcohol or drugs — even prescription medication — out of reach to reduce the chance of misuse in attempts at self-medicating. 

Maintaining clean living spaces is important and can contribute to overall well-being, including brain function, healthy sleep habits, and mood regulation.

Offer emotional support

Emotional support can help mitigate youth mental health crises. Promoting open communication within the family unit is another critical aspect. Mental Health America shares ways to have healthy and productive conversations to help teens. 

Foster healthy relationships

Besides familial ties, encourage healthy relationships between peers since social networks serve as buffers against stressors that can trigger anxiety and depression. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health notes that more than a quarter (26%) of women and 15% of men say their first experience of partner violence occurred before they were 18. Education and intervention can help teens deal with toxic relationships.

Maintain routine

Establishing routines provides structure and predictability, both critical elements for adolescents. Stress levels can significantly reduce with predictable daily schedules.

  • Routine meals: Regular mealtimes ensure balanced nutrition and overall well-being, including brain function and mood regulation.
  • Sleep schedule: Consistent bedtimes and wake-up times promote better quality sleep, directly impacting cognitive abilities and mood management.
  • Daily exercise: Physical activity releases endorphins, “feel-good” hormones that help manage depression and anxiety symptoms.
  • Homework time: Scheduled study periods encourage focus and productivity, reducing academic-related stressors.

Child Mind Institute suggests incorporating dedicated device downtime into daily schedules — for example, when in the car together or during mealtimes — to allow teens and parents to unwind, connect, and engage.

“A few studies point to social media exposure time as having a depressive effect on the developing brain. Whistleblowers from major social media companies have stated that their product was engineered to make young girls feel bad about themselves. We already know that fast-paced content lowers our attention span and makes concentrating harder. More studies need to be done on the effects of social media on teens, and the role 5G has on the developing brain. At this point, we may see a major experiment’s effects.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD

Regularly Check in with Your Teen

Regular interaction with your teen is paramount. This goes beyond the standard “how was your day” conversation. Make the effort to dive into meaningful dialogue so you can better understand their thoughts and feelings.

Maintaining a connection is crucial in light of the current youth mental health crisis. Remember, the objective isn’t immediately resolving all of your teenager’s mental health symptoms, but rather demonstrating they’re not alone and that people genuinely care about them.

Maintain open communication

Open communication can aid in protecting teen mental health by providing an outlet for expression. Encourage teenagers to share what they’re experiencing without fear of judgment or criticism. Remember, these conversations should be safe spaces.

Avoid cutting your teen off or offering solutions too hastily. Listen actively and empathetically and pay attention to signs like excessive worry or sadness, changes in sleep patterns, or new eating habits. These might suggest more severe underlying conditions that should be addressed.

“Parents can start by remembering when they were teenagers, finding words to articulate their sadness, pain, and heartache were difficult. Yet we expect our teens to come to us and tell us everything. Instead, they keep their hurtful life separate and closed off. This may reflect how they have observed their parents deal with difficult emotions. A parent can attend family therapy to help the family dynamic recognize how to become a safe healing environment that can accept a range of emotions.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD

Navigate difficult conversations

Discussing sensitive topics like untreated mental health issues can be challenging for parents and teens alike. It’s essential to approach these topics carefully and thoughtfully to respect a teenager’s perspective. If possible, try talking during calm moments when neither of you feels rushed or under pressure.

Encourage Them to Identify Their Emotions

Guiding teenagers to identify their emotions is integral. This crucial step is often referred to as emotional literacy, and it equips teenagers with essential tools for understanding and expressing their feelings effectively.

Practice emotional literacy

Emotional literacy is the ability to recognize, understand, and express emotions. For teenagers grappling with mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, this skill can be incredibly beneficial. It enables them to articulate better what they’re feeling while helping them manage their feelings more effectively.

Research recently published found that adolescents who can accurately identify their emotions have better mental health outcomes than those who can’t.

To help your young adult develop emotional literacy skills, use the following strategies:

  1. Create an open dialogue: Establish a safe environment where your teen feels comfortable expressing themselves without fear of judgment or punishment.
  2. Educate about different emotions: Sometimes teenagers struggle to identify emotions simply because they lack knowledge. Providing education on this topic could prove helpful.
  3. Encourage teens to take time to address their emotions daily: Keeping a journal for mental health is a beneficial and effective coping tool.

Help Them Find Ways to Cope

Supporting teenagers in their mental health journey involves equipping them with effective coping strategies. These tools can help teens manage symptoms and navigate challenging situations.

Cognitive behavioral techniques

Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, like cognitive restructuring and mindfulness, are proven to effectively manage many treatable mental health conditions. Cognitive restructuring helps teens challenge negative thought patterns that may contribute to their distress, while mindfulness encourages focusing on the present moment rather than worrying about the past or future.

Maintain an active lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle plays a vital role in supporting teens’ mental health. Regular exercise can diminish the manifestations of anxiety and depression. Encourage your teen to participate in activities they enjoy, like sports, dancing, or yoga, to provide both physical benefits and emotional relief.

Social support networks

Fostering strong social connections is another crucial aspect of helping teenagers cope. Friends who understand what your teen is going through can offer empathy, encouragement, and companionship during difficult times.

Seek Professional Help for Teens

For parents and caretakers, it’s critical to learn how to help a teenager with mental health issues. If you notice your teen’s mental health symptoms escalate, it might be time to seek professional help. Mental health is often treatable, and early intervention with a mental health professional can significantly improve mental health treatment outcomes.

In response to the increasing demand for accessible mental health services, online platforms like Talkspace have emerged as viable alternatives to traditional therapy settings. Talkspace offers confidential, convenient, and flexible online therapy for teens conducted by licensed therapists who specialize in adolescent psychology.

This virtual platform allows young adults experiencing mental health concerns to access support without leaving home. It also ensures privacy, which many adolescents appreciate when dealing with sensitive issues such as anxiety or depression. Talkspace’s mental health service for teens helps protect their mental well-being while accommodating their often busy schedules. Reach out to learn how to access mental health help for teens through Talkspace. 


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  2. Mental illness. National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed July 23, 2023.
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  7. Loveisrespect. Helping your teen through an unhealthy relationship. Helping Your Teen Through an Unhealthy Relationship | Office on Women’s Health. April 30, 2019. Accessed July 23, 2023.  
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Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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