Teens and Mental Health What to Know What to Do

Posted 5/31/2022
Family gazing out to the ocean- Facebook title

The numbers are startling. In 2020, emergency room visits involving mental health jumped 31% among 12- to 17-year-olds. One sixth of those in this age group had a major depressive episode. For young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, one-third experienced mental illness — and nearly four million considered suicide.

That’s heavy news, especially when teens are already prone to poor decision-making and vulnerable to turning to alcohol or drugs for escape. But there’s hope, too. Helping teens feel linked to others at their schools and in their families goes a long way to bolstering their mental health, say experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

parent hugging daughter from behind

Keep relationships strong
Parents can help by spending time together baking cookies, playing Catan, hiking — or whatever you and your adolescent share an interest in. It’s also helpful to keep communications open with teens and teachers alike, volunteer at school, talk about homework and other activities, and generally stay in-the-know to help teens make healthy decisions.

mom and daughter walking along ocean

Know the warning signs
Unlike many health issues, we can’t confirm mental illness with simple diagnostic tests, these are common symptoms to watch for:

  • Sadness or withdrawal for more than two weeks
  • Attempting or planning to injure self or commit suicide
  • Drastic, high-risk behavior that harms self or others
  • Unfounded overwhelming fear – possible with a racing heart, trouble breathing, or reports of discomfort
  • Significant changes in weight
  • Seeing, hearing, or believing things that aren’t real
  • Overuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Dramatic changes in mood, personality, actions, or sleep
  • Difficulty focusing or staying still
  • Intense worry that interferes with daily living
  • Missing school or falling behind in school
parent and child prepping food in the kitchen
 
If you think a teen is struggling
If you’re concerned about your child, talk to your pediatrician and outline your concerns.
“Anxiety and depression symptoms can be very difficult to navigate for teens,” says Nubia Calabi, MD, a Pediatric Provider at the Martin’s Point Health Care Center in Brunswick. “Identifying concerns early and reaching out to their primary care provider guidance or a therapist or counselor can be a very helpful first step.”

 

Check in with teachers, friends, coaches, and other people that know your child well to see if they’ve noted concerns, too.

If you or your teen is concerned about another young person, it helps to know what to say. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), offers these conversation starters:

“It worries me to hear you talk like this. Let’s talk to someone about it.”
“I’ve noticed you haven’t been acting like yourself lately. Is something going on?”
“I’ve noticed you’re sleeping more/eating less/etc. Is everything okay?”

From there, it’s important to listen patiently, and suggest people the teen could turn to — like teachers, relatives, coaches, religious counselors. Offer understanding and hope — and reassurance that you’ll be there for support. 

Crisis support: 
NAMI Maine Teen Text Support Line: Text 207-515-8398 or call 1-800-464-5767 (Press 1)
N.H. Rapid Response Access Point: 833-710-6477 (call or text)
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
Maine Crisis Hotline 1-888-568-1112
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 800-273-8255

Important resources
Along with your pediatrician and school staff, you can turn to these trusted resources to learn more and get help.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute of Mental Health
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Maine
NAMI New Hampshire