By Jennifer Proe
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably noticed the alarming statistics about teens and mental health.
In December of 2021, United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a rare public advisory on the severity of the mental health crisis facing young people. The data doesn’t lie: In 2019, 13 percent of adolescents reported having a major depressive episode—a 60 percent increase from 2007 (as reported in the National Survey of Children’s Health.)
Adolescent and child emergency room visits for anxiety, mood disorders, and self-harm are on the rise, and so are suicide rates.
And this was even before the pandemic struck. Now, adolescents are struggling even more.
Clearly, the kids are not alright. But what can we, as parents, do about teen mental health?
Know the Warning Signs of Depression in Teens
You’re not alone. Mental health issues are a challenge that many families face. It may help you to know that one out of five teenagers has a diagnosable mental health disorder.
- Loss of self-esteem; feeling bad about themselves
- Sudden decline in academic performance
- Increased anger and aggression or emotional instability
- Rise in anxiety and worry; being overly nervous, or restless
- Increased isolation
- Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Shift in communication — talking less, or much more than usual
- Change in eating habits — either not eating enough or eating too much and too often
- Repetitive bouts of extreme laughing or crying for no apparent reason
Get Your Teen Talking: Mental Health Conversation Starters
We all know our kids hate to be accosted by the dreaded, “How was school today?” question — just as much as we hate the one-word answer we get in reply: “Fine.” How can we get them to open up and let us know how they’re really feeling? Counselors at Newport Academy recommend taking a “mental health temperature check” with some open-ended questions like:
- If your life was a movie, what songs might be on the soundtrack right now?
- What could you use more of in your life? Or less?
- What’s the best and worst thing that happened in your week?
- What’s your favorite YouTube or TikTok account right now?
Be prepared to listen, and share your own answers (fair is fair). And be prepared to try, and try again, if necessary. Many times our teens want to talk, but it’s not easy to break down the barriers to communication.
Ask for Help
If you’re worried your teenager might be suffering from depression, but you don’t know what to do next, don’t wait to take the next step. Early diagnosis and treatment of depression improves outcomes, so the sooner you address the problem, the better. Talk with your child’s pediatrician or other trusted healthcare provider for an assessment and to find out what treatment options are available. For more information, download a free Ebook on recognizing depression in teens and steps parents can take.