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Teens and Mental Health
Health & Wellness

Teens and Mental Health

May 10, 2021

A student sitting at a desk looking stressed.

Updated on: 1/25/22
When you think about mental health, it may seem like simply an “adult” thing. But the reality is: Mental health issues affect people of all ages In fact, the American Psychological Association reports that an estimated 15 million American children and teens could currently be diagnosed with a mental health condition. That means that as a parent, it’s every bit as important to pay close attention to your teen’s mental health, alongside his or her physical health.  


How Common Are Mental Health Issues in Teens? 

The number of American children affected by a mental health condition is staggeringly large. But it’s important to recognize two key facts along with that statistic—the first is that many children who have these conditions are undiagnosed. 

And second, that number only reflects the number of children and teens with mental health conditions. The number would be much larger if it reflected all children who are affected at some time or another by stress or something else impacting mental health. 

“Teens are at a developmental crossroad where independence and vulnerability collide.” said Ellen Feldman, MD. “The precarious balance between wanting to make decisions and operate without adult input and being fearful of not having the internal strength or tools to do so may tip when the world feels unsafe and unpredictable. This is one reason we are seeing unprecedented levels of anxiety in teens today.” 

Just like it has for adults, the number of children and teens experiencing issues with mental health has steadily increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While children are incredibly resilient, mental health is impacted when you’re isolated from friends and extended family, when you can’t attend in-person school, when you miss out on beloved activities like sports, and when you can’t do the things that normally provide you with stress relief and joy. 

Signs of teenagers struggling with their mental health: 

  • Physical aggression 

  • Diminished academic performance 

  • A parent and a teenager sitting in a circle with a group.
  • Alienation from friends or peer group 

  • Increased behavioral issues 

  • Increased hyperactivity and inability to focus 

  • More frequent nightmares 

  • Poor grades despite trying hard 

  • Refusal to go to school 

  • Unrelenting anxiety or worry 

If you see any of these signs, particularly over a period of time, talk with your child’s medical provider about what you’re seeing. Consider more urgent action, such as urgent/emergency appointment if you notice your teen engaging in self-harm or self-destructive behavior or talking about death or suicide.  

Supporting & Helping Teens with their Mental Health 

Wondering how you can help your teen build strong mental health? It requires many of the same habits that are good for you! 

“Adults can help by acknowledging that life is uncertain and that the pandemic and related changes to our lives are difficult to manage.” states Dr. Feldman. “Demonstrate that management is within reach by allowing your teen a ‘front row seat’ to your own positive and consistent coping skills, share part of the story of your own struggles and successes you have developed over time and encourage your teen along a path to find internal strength. Remind yourself and your teen that skills built now, during the pandemic or other times of emotional upheavals, can have life-long implications.” 

Teens, like their adult counterparts, need to practice healthy lifestyle habits. These habits help the mind and body build up strong defenses against whatever life can throw your way: 

  • Regular exercise. While experts recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, teens still need 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week. 

  • Balanced diet. Eating a healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables is a key part of well-being. It’s also a good idea to teach your teen how to turn to healthy foods rather than fast or comfort food when stressed. 

  • Quality sleep. Many of our mental health issues are worsened by a lack of sleep. Make sure your teen prioritizes getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis. 

  • Stress-relieving activities. This falls under the category of “self-care.” Encourage your child to find activities and hobbies he or she loves, and then do them often! 

If you think your teen could use mental health support, start by talking with your primary care provider, who can guide your next steps. Many scheduling options are available so your family can conveniently access care.  

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