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Youth mental health: common adolescent issues and ways to support your children

May 8, 2024
5 minutes
Lifestyle Health & Wellness
Mental health

There's no way around it: being a parent can be devastatingly difficult, especially when your child is struggling. Recognizing, understanding, and addressing mental health issues in children isn't just an important part of your role as a parent – it can literally be life-saving.

Here, we'll explore common mental health issues experienced in adolescence, signs and symptoms that you'll want to keep an eye out for, ways to talk with your teen about their mental health, and how you can help your teen when they're struggling with their emotional and mental well-being.

Understanding common mental health issues in adolescence

In many ways, it's harder than ever to be a teen. Mental health issues are incredibly common in adolescents – it's estimated that nearly half of all teens have experienced a mental health disorder at some point in their lives.

There are many factors that contribute to teen mental health issues in today's world, including:

  • Academic and athletic pressure
  • Bullying
  • Lack of coping skills
  • Family mental health
  • Financial instability
  • Gender and sexual orientation
  • Inability to access high-quality food, shelter, and health care
  • Phone addiction
  • Social media
  • Relationship and friendship issues

Mental health is individual, and different factors affect adolescents in different ways. In addition to external factors, other issues like temperament, genetics, personality, and sensitivity levels can all affect your teen's mental health.

While it's important to recognize your teen as an individual with a unique mental health situation, it can also be helpful to be aware of some of the most common mental health issues experienced by adolescents.

Common mental health conditions experienced in adolescence include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Oppositional-defiant disorder
  • Panic attacks
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Signs and symptoms to watch out for

Knowing what's normal for your child – and being able to notice when they deviate from their mental health norms – can be vital in recognizing problems and helping your child get the support that they need. Biological, social, and intellectual changes that occur naturally during adolescence can make it tough to identify mental health changes, and keeping an open dialogue with your teen can help you identify issues (more on that shortly).

Signs and symptoms of mental health disorders in adolescents can include:

  • Loss of interest in social, athletic, and academic activities
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Canceling plans with close friends without explanation
  • Significant changes to their social group
  • New academic struggles
  • Constant or near-constant worrying
  • Obsession with a goal that leaves little room for other activities
  • Signs of drug use, alcohol use, or sexual activity
  • Signs of self-harm (many teens attempt to disguise signs of self-harm by wearing long sleeves and long pants)

Effective communication strategies with teens about mental health

Tackling tough topics with teens can feel akin to trying to nail Jell-O to a tree. That being said, practice makes perfect, and remaining persistent in reaching out to your teen to talk about their mental health can help them understand that you care and aren't going anywhere.

A few key tips that can help you keep the lines of communication open with your adolescent include:

  • Listen to understand, not to respond. When you're having a conversation with your teen about your concerns, it's important to stay curious while working to learn more about what they're dealing with. Reflecting your teen's feelings back to them to be sure you understand before responding can help your teen feel heard, safe, and understood.
  • Don't be afraid to sit in discomfort. When your child is going through a crisis (a breakup, a falling out with a friend, an academic disappointment), don't try to problem-solve in the moment. Instead, sit with them in the discomfort, listen to them as they process their experience, and let them know that you're going to work through the crisis together.
  • Normalize your child's experiences. When adolescents go through mental health struggles, they can feel incredibly lonely, and it can be hard for them to believe that anyone has ever been through a similar mental health experience and has come out on the other side. Assuring your child that their feelings are valid, that they're not the first person to feel this way, and allowing them to share openly, without shame or judgment, can help them keep coming back to talk with you about their feelings.

Creating a supportive environment at home

Developing an environment conducive to open communication can help your teen speak up when something goes wrong. Making yourself available to your teen without pushing them to share can create plenty of opportunities for discussion when they feel ready to talk. Positively managing your own emotions (and talking to your teen in an age-appropriate way about your own mental health) can help your teen gain a sense of safety and trust when it comes to discussing difficult issues.

Seeking professional help: when and how

If your teen is thinking about suicide, it's important to get them immediate, nonjudgmental support. Go to your local emergency room, or call or text 988, the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

If your teen is dealing with mental health symptoms that are not an emergency, making an appointment with a licensed adolescent therapist or counselor can provide your teen with the support they need. Don't press your teen to share what they've discussed in therapy, unless they want to do so.

Nurturing resilience and coping skills in adolescents

Talking with your teen about self-care can help to bolster their resilience and create the confidence necessary to ask for help. Simply spending time with your teen, following consistent daily routines, and discussing the coping skills that work well for you can help your teen begin to pay attention to the strategies and habits that will work to support their mental health.

You can make a difference for your teen

Researching information about how to support your teen's mental health means that you're already headed in the right direction. Knowing what to look for, keeping an open dialogue, and providing your teen with the personal support and/or professional help that they need can help them develop the coping strategies they need to thrive. At Evidation, we're here to support you and your family's physical and mental health with personalized tips and insights to keep you moving forward – click here to learn more and download the app. Remember, when your child asks for help, it's a sign of strength – not weakness. Celebrating your teen's courage in speaking up about mental health issues can help cement their ability to advocate for themselves.

Mental health
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