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When learning how to help a teenager with mental health issues, it’s important to know when to listen and when to call for help. Teen mental health issues can be difficult for parents to address. Some key considerations include being mindful of your words, actively listening, supporting and modeling healthy habits, and knowing when to talk to a mental health professional.

Today’s teens struggle with mental health issues at a greater rate than previous generations. We know more about how mental health issues can be recognized and categorized. Still, we have also observed that teens today display higher worry, sadness, and difficulty coping with stress.

To be fair to them, these are stressful times. But how should parents respond? Parents know how to take care of a scrape or a bruise, but what can you do to address recurring emotional pain? Especially when you don’t know what’s causing it?

Let’s take a look at how to help a teenager with mental health issues.

How to Help a Teenager with Mental Health Issues

Knowing what to look for is a crucial first step. Teens are on the cusp of adulthood and constantly changing. Their interests change, their moods change, and their personalities develop. However, there are differences between changes in development and acute changes related to stress or mental health.

Watch out for behavioral or social changes that are entirely uncharacteristic. Keep an eye out for sudden and drastic changes in eating and sleeping. Watch out for examples of social withdrawal or isolation. When you’re not sure if your teen’s newest behavior is the result of puberty or a red flag to keep an eye out for, consider talking to your teen’s pediatrician.

Here are a few essential tips on how to help a teenager with mental health issues:

Start the Conversation

It’s normal for teens to start keeping things to themselves. They want their own privacy and independence, and sometimes, it’s just about trying not to involve others in their own suffering. If your teen has been feeling bad and hasn’t talked to you about it yet, it’ll be up to you to start the conversation.

Knowing when and how to start the conversation is important, too. It’s always better to pick a day when your teen is feeling better, or during an activity they might enjoy. Some teens are more likely to talk when their hands are busy. Don’t worry if it takes more than twice or thrice before your teen wants to talk about it. Be persistent.

Listen Actively

When your teen does talk, it’s important to give them the time and space to express themselves. Be curious, ask questions, but don’t comment or critique. Withhold judgment. Pause before you think about providing definitive advice or suggesting a solution. Don’t talk about what you would’ve done unless it is to relate about the exact same kind of feeling.

Mental health issues are frustrating and isolating. Because they’re stigmatized, many teens think they’re alone in their feelings. They also think that they’re weaker than others because others don’t seem to be outwardly struggling the way they are. The last thing a teen might need after talking about their mental health crisis is a simple solution. The first thing they need is to be heard.

Support Healthy Habits

Lifestyle changes don’t cure mental health problems, but they can contribute to a more positive state of mind, more stable mood, and less anxious thoughts. Healthy habits can and do help teens with mental health issues, particularly because mental health problems can have a significant impact on all other aspects of a teen’s life, as well (by negatively affecting sleep, nutrition, relationships, grades, and so on).

Support healthy habits in your teen by helping them get to bed early, limiting their screen time before bed (to improve sleep), holding them accountable to their academic responsibilities, and promoting healthier eating habits and fitness goals through your own actions by cooking healthy meals together, choosing healthier food options, spending more time with your teen being active on the weekends, exercising together, and so on.

Encourage Social Interaction

Teens that are prosocial tend to fare better when it comes to markers of self-esteem and mental health. On the flip side, more antisocial behavior can correlate with worse mental health issues. Encouraging positive social interactions also helps teens forge bonds that help provide the kind of emotional support they might need from their peers to deal with different stressors in life as they get older.

It can be hard for teens to make friends. Childhood friends drift apart, and teens might not meet many other teens with similar interests or values. Sometimes, relationships are complicated, and feelings get hurt. But it’s important to encourage your teen not to give up on spending time with others and making friends.

Provide Unconditional Love

It goes without saying that a positive parent-child relationship is crucial for better teen mental health. Teens with better relationships with their parents also tend to do better in all aspects of life. It’s one thing to feel unconditional love for your child, but it’s another to express it.

Make sure your teen knows and understands that you’re always there for them, independent of what they pursue in life, or whether they succeed or fail at anything.

Seek Professional Help

Encouraging prosocial behavior, improving your relationship with your teen, and modelling healthier lifestyle choices can go a long way. But sometimes, a teen’s mental health crisis is more than a temporary problem. Chronic or severe mental health problems require professional help.

If your teen is exhibiting serious red flags – such as potential self-harm, dangerous/criminal behavior, or suicidal ideation and intent – it’s important to talk to a mental health practitioner about treatment.

Get A Free Mental Health Assessment for Your Teen

Teen mental health issues can be debilitating and can hold your teen back for years to come. Are you ready to take the first step toward treatment and recovery with your teen? Contact us about scheduling a free mental health assessment.

We at Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers utilize a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation process to prepare a treatment plan for each of our teens and provide a wide range of modalities at our residential treatment centers.


Identifying a potential mental health issue is half the battle. The other half is addressing it. When talking about how to help a teenager with mental health issues, it’s always important to keep in mind that friends and family – including parents – can offer support but can’t always make negative or intrusive thoughts go away. Know when and who to call. We at Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers are always ready to take your call.