How to Talk With Your Teen That is Struggling With Their Mental Health


Dana Etherington

date published

Jan. 5, 2022, noon



Perhaps you've recently noticed a loved one sleeping more, isolating more, or not caring about school or work like they used to. This can be something we avoid talking about for fear of upsetting them further or saying the wrong thing. This post is aimed at helping parents talk with a loved one struggling with worsening mental health symptoms.

Start the conversation with validation. Create an atmosphere of safety and openness by telling them they are not alone in what they are feeling. Tell them what you’ve noticed.

You could say:

“I've noticed that you’ve been isolating a lot more recently. I understand wanting some time alone, I like my alone time too, but this isn’t like you.”

Describe the behaviour changes that you have noticed in a non-judgmental way. Remember, that non-judgmental language involves no assumptions or opinions. Only comment on observable behaviour.

Do not be neutral. Take a stance and be direct about how you feel. 

“I care about you. I am worried about you. I want to help you in any way that I can.”

Saying “Let me know how I can help” is often well-intentioned, but it leaves the responsibility on the other person to come up with what action they would like you to take. Most people do not know what action you could take that would be helpful for them at this time.

Take initiative and offer a few simple options:

  • Would you like me to find a supportive therapist you can talk to?
  • Would you like me to make you a therapy appointment?
  • Would you like me to encourage you to get outside once a day?
  • Would you like me to check in with you every few days?

It is important not to ignore the changes in behaviour that you see, as they can be signs of a worsening mental health condition. Pushing past your discomfort and having this important conversation can be life-changing.

Author Bio

Dana Etherington is an Occupational Therapist, Psychotherapist and is the owner of Cedar Tree Therapy.  Cedar Tree Therapy located in Whitby, Ontario serves clients 13 and up that are experiencing anxiety, body image challenges, and many other mental health symptoms. Virtual therapy appointments are available to anyone living in Ontario.

IG: @cedartreetherapy

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