Caring for your teen’s mental health is important. So, what’s the most effective approach for starting a conversation about how they’re feeling?
It’s common for teenagers to have occasional periods of low moods and poor motivation. If these symptoms continue for more than a few weeks, it may be a sign of an underlying problem that requires attention and support.
“Chatting to your teen about their mental health may feel daunting,” says psychologist, Dr Marny Lishman, “But supporting them in seeking an approach that works for them is a step in the right direction.”
Mental health issues can be caused by things such as:
- body image issues
- starting a new job
- new relationships
In this article
Mental health issues for teenagers
According to Beyond Blue and Black Dog Institute, adolescents commonly experience mental health conditions, with over 40 percent of Year 12 students reporting anxiety and depression symptoms.1 Major depressive disorders have a prevalence of 5% among those aged 12 to 17 years.2
Additionally, around 20 percent of adolescents aged 11 to 17 experience significant psychological distress.3
Signs to be aware of
Dr Lishman says there are warning signs that your teen may be struggling, these are some to be aware of:
- more withdrawn than usual
- dramatic changes in behaviour and mood
- appearing unmotivated and unenthusiastic
- wanting to quit activities such as school, work or sports
- lacking in energy, concentration and focus
- sleep issues
- changes in appetite – eating more or less
- complaining of physical pain
- increased focus on weight or physical appearance
When should you start talking to your teen
If you have concerns about your child's mental health, start a conversation with them as soon as possible. Engaging in open dialogue about their emotions and wellbeing shows them that you genuinely care and want to help.
There are several ways you might like to start a conversation.
“If it's not something that’s been discussed before, just opening up a private conversation with your teen on a walk, in the car, or even doing an activity together is a good place to start,” says Dr Lishman.
Suggestions for conversation starters include:
“How are you going?”
“I’ve noticed you are quieter than usual”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m sensing that …”
“How do you feel this morning?”
Alternatively, ask open-ended questions to encourage your teen to be open about their lives.
“What happened on your work shift today?
“What did you and your friends do today?”
“What are you learning about in science?”
What to consider when talking to your teen
When it comes to discussing your teen's mental health, it's important to approach the conversation with care and thoughtfulness. Dr Lishman lists the below as possibly helpful when considering a new conversation with your teen.
- Let them know that you are always available to talk
- Reassure them that they are not alone
- Ask questions in a non-threatening way, without pushing too much
- Aim to be the safe person they can talk to without fear of judgment, rejection, or punishment
- Offer to find someone they might want to talk to if they are not comfortable talking to you – another family member, close family friend or a mental health professional like a psychologist or GP
The importance of self-care
Dr. Lishman emphasises the significance of self-care for mental health.
“Encouraging your teen to prioritise themselves can greatly contribute to their overall well-being,” she says.
Things that can help include:4
- getting sufficient sleep – teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep a night
- maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet
- spending time with friends
- engaging in daily physical activity
- balancing screen time with activities
- abstaining from alcohol and drugs
- spending time outside in the fresh air and sun
How can you encourage your kids to ask for help
It’s never too early to start talking about mental health. Open communication from early on can make things easier.
“Talk about mental health just like you do physical health,” says Dr Lishman. “Openly discuss what you can all do as a family to be healthier, and what needs to happen if you don’t feel good physically or mentally.
The more we are open, honest and vulnerable about how we feel, the more we are comfortable in opening up when we don’t feel good.”
- Maggie Dent (Parental as Anything) – podcast and book
- Happy Families (Justin Coulsen) - website and podcast
- DadPod (Osher G)
- The Fathering Project organisation
How can HBF help?
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This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.