Breaking The Silence

Adolescent Mental Health and How to Help

March 17, 2016

A Time of Change

Adolescence is a time where many changes occur, both physically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially. If you are constantly bumping heads with your teen, don't worry, you are not alone! During this stage of development, teens may not always be thinking of the consequences of their actions. In other words, their brain is still developing. It's a time for them to explore, discover, and learn. It's a time for them to figure out who they are on their own. With that being said, you may feel as if you're teen has really isolated themselves from you and the family. Don't take that too personally! It's important to understand that these actions your teen may be taking are nothing but normal. It also may help to reflect and look back on your teenage years, or talk to other parents to know you are not the only one having a tough time.

With this stage of development come a lot of new stressors added to your teens life. It's important to understand how your teen copes with these stressors. These stressors can also have a significant impact on their mental health. It's important not to stigmatize mental health and to treat it as equally as physical health. As parents, you need to make sure your teen knows you are always there to talk to. As well, make sure you are keeping a close eye on your teens behaviors, and know when their behaviors start to become irregular or change suddenly. Mental health is an important aspect of everyone's life, as it is closely connected with how you feel physically. Don't ignore mental health. Understand it, talk about it, and take the necessary actions needed if your teen is experiencing poor mental health.

Our March newsletter is a way to reach out regarding your teen's mental health and approaches you may take to help understand and support your teen. It is critical to understand what your teen is going through and to learn techniques to help them. Most often, mental health is stigmatized and not spoken of, but it is important to develop a strong relationship where you and your teen feel comfortable having a conversation about their mental health.

Teen Depression

Depression among teens is a serious health concern and most often undiagnosed and/or untreated. It is the number one risk factor for suicide. If your teen appears to be unusually sad for weeks/months, don't just assume they are having a rough few weeks. If you notice your teen isn't functioning as they used to, it's time to step in. Act sooner rather than later. You're teen may not come to you. You need to go to them. They need you. Here are some warning sings indicating that your teen may have depression. It's important to distinguish these signs from everyday sadness.

Warning Signs:

  • Changes in sleep/eating patterns
  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Irritability
  • Easily agitated
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Poor academic performance
  • Isolation from friends and family

How to help:

Communication! Communication! Communication! It's important to express to your teen that they are not alone in the way they are feeling. Most often, when teens recognize they are not the only ones feeling this way, it makes things seem a little bit more comfortable and a sense of relief. Talking about the way they feel can be very beneficial. If you feel your teen is not expressing in full the way they are feeling, talking to an outside source can be very helpful.

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Alcohol and other Drug Abuse

During the period of adolescence, your teen may find themselves in situations where their peers are experimenting with alcohol and/or other drugs. This could be for a variety of reasons, such as peer pressure, a coping mechanism, or curiosity.

It's important to keep and honest and open relationship with your teen, and explain to them the consequences drinking and experimenting with other drugs.

Problems associated with underage drinking:

  • Leads to injury and death
  • More likely to abuse other drugs
  • Higher risk of suicide
  • Lower academic performance
  • Increased risk for sexual assault
  • Lack of participation in activities
  • Interferes with brain development
  • Increases their chances of developing a substance abuse problem later in life

You play a greater role than you think in your teen's decision to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. As parents, go over the consequences of drinking and using other drugs, be a role model for your teen which includes not getting drunk around them, communicate with your teen about how they feel, supervise your teen and keep track of where they are, and don't make alcohol and other prescription drugs easily accessible. A big component of whether or not a teen chooses to experiment with alcohol is the level of involvement of parents in their life. Make sure you are involved in your teens, and make sure they know you are their biggest cheerleader.

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Teen Suicide

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide has become the third leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 24. Mental illness is one of the strongest risk factors for teen suicide. Suicide happens as a result of ineffective or lack of coping mechanisms to stressors in daily life. Because teens are going through many changes during this time period, there are going to be new stressors from these changes that they may not know how to cope with at first. Many teens may experience bullying, whether that be physical, emotional, and in person or behind a computer screen. You may never know this, so it's important to make sure you monitor your teen's online activities and how often they spend their time behind a screen.

It's important to understand what type of coping mechanisms your teen may use, and to help identify new ways of coping. Everyone handles stress differently, and when the stress outweighs the mental capacity to handle stress, that's when one becomes at risk for suicide.

Warning Signs:

  • Any mention of dying or hurting themselves (take this seriously)
  • Stating they don't have a purpose in life
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Research on how to kill themselves
  • Isolation
  • Change in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Aggression/Anger
  • Significant change in personality/behavior

Risk Factors:

  • Family History of Suicide
  • Depression or other mental illness
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • History of previous suicide attempts
  • Stressful events in life
  • Access to firearms/other methods
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To wrap it up:

Your teen's mental health is one of the most important aspects of their being to make sure is strong, especially during a time period like adolescence. You may really never know exactly what is going on inside your teen's head, but it's important to make known that you support your teen unconditionally. Many parents are afraid to talk about mental health, especially if they face problems with their own mental health. It's important to overcome this barrier and develop effective communication strategies that work for you and your teen. Don't be afraid to get your teen help if they need it. You never want to know what happens if your teen doesn't get the help that they need.

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Depression In Teens. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2016, from

King, K.A., & Vidourek, R.A. (2012). Teen depression and suicide: Effective prevention and intervention strategies. Prevention Researcher, 19(4), 15-17 3p.

Mental Health and Teens: Watch for Danger Signs. (2015, November 11). Retrieved March 17, 2016, from

Stages of Adolescence. (2015, November 21). Retrieved March 17, 2016, from

Suicide Prevention. (2015, March 10). Retrieved March 17, 2016, from

Teen Suicide is Preventable. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2016, from