Mental health disorders among children and teenagers have risen in recent years. Approximately 1 in 5 children are affected by a mental health disorder, and when left untreated, these disorders can become serious. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 15-24, and approximately 18% of teens and adolescents have engaged in self-injury at some point in their lives.
Unfortunately, many adolescents and teens are reluctant to seek help or support from an adult.
"Typically, teens will confide in their friends when they are experiencing mental health struggles," explains Vanessa Simpson, Behavioral Health Care Manager at Children's Health℠. "Whether through a post on social media or certain comments in conversation, peers may be the first to notice signs that a friend may need help."
That's why it's important for parents to talk proactively and openly with children about mental health – and what they should do if they or a friend experiences anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts.
What are common mental health disorders in teens?
Teens can experience a variety of mental health disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern among adolescents and teenagers. Other common disorders can include depression, substance use disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and eating disorders.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental disorders are described as serious changes in the way someone learns, behaves or handles their emotions, which could cause issues getting through the day.
What are signs a teen needs help with a mental health disorder?
There are multiple signs and symptoms that may indicate teens are struggling with their mental health or with suicidal thoughts. The most common warning signs that someone you know may need help for a mental health disorder include:
- Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
- Talking or writing about death
- Acting recklessly
- Withdrawing from others
- Exhibiting dramatic mood changes
- Expressing hopelessness or having no reason for living
- Giving away prized possessions
If your teen is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it's best to ask them direct questions about their feelings. If your teen notices a friend who is displaying these signs, let them know it's okay to intervene to help keep their friend safe.
How can you help a friend with mental illness?
If your child thinks their friend may be suffering from a mental health disorder, it is important for them to feel comfortable telling their friend they are concerned and want to help. Most importantly, make sure your teen understands that it is not their sole responsibility to ensure the safety of a friend. While they may be the first person to intervene or have concerns for a friend's safety, a trusted adult needs to be contacted to seek professional help and support.
Here are ways teens can help a friend with a mental health disorder:
- Provide support by expressing empathy for what your friend may be going through.
- Ask direct questions to help understand what they're experiencing. Talking openly about mental health concerns, including suicide, can be a relief for a friend.
- Let your friend know recovery is possible and that by telling a trusted adult about their feelings, they can obtain help.
Parents should discuss with teens who to contact to ensure the safety of friends in need of mental health support. Trusted adults include school staff (school counselors or administrators), parents/guardians (their own or their friends' parents/guardians) or suicide hotlines. Encourage your child that seeking support is a way to help their friend, and that they should not feel bad or guilty for telling an adult about their concern.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by calling or texting 988. The website also offers a chat feature. 9-1-1 can also be called in case of emergency or if a trusted adult is unavailable.
Despite mental health concerns being common among adolescents, recovery is possible, and help is available.
Children's Health offers one of the most comprehensive specialty programs available for children and teens who need mental health services, staffed by experts with access to the latest research and treatments for depression and other mood disorders. Learn more about our Pediatric Psychiatry and Psychology services.
You can also access emotional care and support from the comfort of your home with Virtual Visit Behavioral Health. With a behavioral health care appointment, you can speak to a board-certified psychiatrist or licensed therapist using video technology. Learn more about Virtual Visit Behavioral Health.