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Mental Health for Teens: A Parent's Guide to Teenage Mental Health

The teenage years are rarely an untroubled time. An influx of hormones combined with challenging social dynamics and school pressures create a melting pot of emotions: it’s no wonder that teenage angst has inspired whole genres of books, films and music.


But when does angst become anxiety? When does feeling down in the dumps become depression? As a parent, your child's teenage years are accompanied by their own set of concerns: worries about your child and their mental health.


With new pressures on our children, including formative social years lost in a pandemic and the ubiquitous rise of social media, it might feel harder than ever to understand what your teens are going through. But despite living in a newly digital world, today’s teenagers are facing centuries-old challenges and you as a parent can help them navigate their mental health.


So let’s dive into the world of mental health for teenagers and find out how parents can support their children.



Teen Mental Health: An Overview


From traditional challenges such as dating and hormones to very 21st-century struggles, there’s a mental health minefield for teenagers.

  • One in three teens will experience an anxiety disorder.

  • One in six teens have experienced depression within the last 12 months.

  • One in five teens will experience depression at some time.

  • Female teenagers are doubly likely to have symptoms of depression.


These statistics alone are concerning, and demonstrate the depths of a teenage mental health crisis. But what’s worse is that the vast majority — 80% — of teens don’t receive help for their depression.


As a parent, you’re alert to your teenager’s wellbeing, but it’s harder to know how to help them. Let’s explore the signs your teenager might be struggling with mental health before examining strategies for support.


Signs Your Teen is Struggling


The teenage mind might be a mystery to those of us who are all grown up, but there are many signs and symptoms of teenage mental health struggles. These often appear as a change to regular behaviour so, as a parent, you should try to understand the regular fluctuations of mood your teenager experiences, and then identify anything out of the ordinary.


Here’s what to look out for:


  • Changes in sleeping habits

  • Changes in social habits, such as avoiding friends or hobbies

  • Changes in appearance and poor hygiene

  • Changes in school performance

  • Changes in weight or appetite

  • Defensiveness when questions

  • Guarding their cellphone

  • Consumption of drugs or alcohol

  • Resistance to regular activities, such as going to school or to bed

  • Depressed mood

  • Evident sadness, crying or tearfulness,

  • Sleeping problems

  • Self-harming

  • Loss of energy

  • Lack of concentration

  • Feeling worthless

  • Symptoms of anxiety or suffering panic attacks

  • Hyperactive behavior

  • Having nightmares

  • Signs of aggression


The challenge for parents is to disentangle regular teenage behaviour, including volatility, sullenness and sadness, from the signs of depression. You should be alert to changes in your teen’s behaviour over time and facilitate an open communication channel so they can talk about their problems.


How to Help Your Teen


Are you seeing the signs of a teenager struggling with anxiety or depression? Or maybe your teenager has become closed off and sullen, and now you don’t know whether they’re suffering from a mental health disorder or typical teenage angst. 


Helping your teen is a balancing act for most parents: you don’t want to become overbearing, or give yourself anxiety with a permanent worry about their wellbeing! But you also have a deep desire to support your teen through these challenging years.


Validate their feelings


If your teen can talk to you about their feelings, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of understanding their mental health. Foster a healthy, open and supportive environment for communication. The most important part of this is to validate their feelings when they talk about negative emotions, and never dismiss them.


You might think the youth of today have gone soft, but an “in my day…” never helped a teenager open up about their mental health. Listen patiently, and respond gently.


Foster their independence


Encouraging your teen’s independence can be scary, but by respecting their autonomy you’ll build a trusting relationship which goes both ways. Additionally, giving your teen independence can build confidence and allow them to create their own support network of friends.


Coordinate with teachers and other leaders


Make sure everyone is on the same page about your teen’s mental health. That means coordinating with their teachers and other activity leaders (such as sports team coaches). If you notice a change in your child’s behaviour, reach out to other adults who know them well to build a plan.


Set a good example


Your child will replicate the coping strategies and stress responses that you model. If you have a fear or phobia, for example, then your child will likely learn a similar fear and anxiety. Consider therapy or an independent treatment plan to develop health responses.


Build a proactive strategy


Support your teen proactively by making mental health a dinner-table topic. Help your teen plan ahead for particularly stressful moments, such as exams or a school trip, and discuss with them the ways they can manage challenging emotions that may arise.


Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques


Mindfulness, meditation, and grounding and breathing techniques are hugely valuable coping skills for anyone, adult or child, dealing with mental health problems. Exploring these skills with your teen gives them a resource to draw on when times are tough. 


Encourage physical health


Physical and mental health go hand in hand [1]. Encouraging your teen to be healthy and active, or partaking in sports with them, provides wide-ranging benefits. It helps them build confidence, often opens up new social avenues, and provides a lifelong line of defence for mental health.


Have professional help on hand


Sometimes, you have to call in the professionals. Even the best parenting in the world, with all the coping mechanisms, sometimes isn’t enough. Engage with your teen’s school to see their counselling options and explore the wider services in your area. Make sure you know when to reach out.


oVRcome for Kids and Teens


Our therapist-built mental health programs for kids and teens can help your child navigate anxiety, fear and phobia in a turbulent time. The app-based programs appeal to a technically in-touch generation and provide empowering independent learning as well as a platform for parents to accelerate and monitor their child’s progress.


Whether a fear of needles is preventing your child from getting the healthcare they need or adolescent anxiety is impacting school and social life, oVRcome has something for you.


Wrapping Up


From Covid to Instagram, today’s teens are growing up in a brave new world. And yet, they’re experiencing the same social and schooling pressures you did: so don’t think you can’t relate to your teen.


Foster an open environment that allows communication, and observe your teen for signs of mental health distress. Remember that anxiety and depression are quite common in teens: there’s nothing to be alarmed at or panicked about if your teen is struggling. Just be ready to help by modelling healthy behaviour, understanding coping strategies and having avenues to professional help if need be.


Are you dealing with a struggling teen? Explore how oVRcome can help you and your child navigate mental health for teens today.


References


1. Feiss R, Pangelinan MM. Relationships between Physical and Mental Health in Adolescents from Low-Income, Rural Communities: Univariate and Multivariate Analyses. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Feb 3;18(4):1372. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18041372. PMID: 33546117; PMCID: PMC7913137.

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