Teens Are in a Mental Health Crisis—Here's How Parents Can Help

by Kimberly Zapata | February 14, 2023 | Medically Reviewed by Stacey R. Younge, LCSW


Mental health issues are on the rise, particularly amongst teens and young adults. But experts agree: There is both help and hope. Parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, and caregivers can empower and assist children in numerous ways.


Mental health has become a talking point in recent years, and for good reason. Millions of Americans live with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Stress levels are also at an all-time high. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 27% of Americans experience such intense levels of stress that it affects their daily lives. This means that more than a quarter of the survey’s respondents said that, on most days, they were so stressed they couldn’t function.

Of course, children are not immune to these feelings, problems, stressors, and conditions. According to a 2021 U.S. Surgeon General’s report, young people are facing a mental health crisis, one which may have “devastating” effects.


Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide—and rates have increased over the past decade,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in the report. “The future well-being of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation.”


This information is, for many, unsurprising. After enduring more than two years of rolling shutdowns, lockdowns, isolation, fear, sickness, grief, loss, and uncertainty, the children are (undoubtedly) not alright. Increased instances of bullying and social media use are also impacting our kids’ well-being. What’s more, teen girls (in particular) are experiencing record levels of sadness, hopelessness, and suicide risk, according to a 2023 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. Rates of emotional distress and sexual violence have also risen. But what can we do?


How can we support our children—and improve their mental well-being? Here’s everything you need to know about teen mental health and suicide prevention.


How to Talk to Your Teen About Mental Health

While discussing and prioritizing mental health is important, broaching the topic can be hard. Many teens do not want to talk about their thoughts—let alone their feelingsand this can make sensitive conversations tough. Scratch that: It can make them seem impossible. But having an open line of communication is essential.


“It’s important that parents talk openly and regularly about mental health with their teens and take a proactive stance,” says Christine Yu Moutier, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Here are a few ways to start the conversation.


  • Ask your child how they’re doing, and what’s happening in their world. This can be as simple as asking, “Are you OK?”
  • Listen intently and without judgment. While you may hear things that make you uncomfortable, you can (and should) offer judgment-free support. “Because there is often stigma attached to mental health conditions, children can feel ashamed to talk about their worries, obsessions, compulsions, impulsivity, and other behavioral problems,” an article by the National Alliance on Mental Illness states. “Talk with them about what they are experiencing. Listen with curiosity and empathize with them.” And avoid statements that are full of shame and blame.
  • Learn. Try to understand where your child is coming from and what they may be going through. Educate yourself about the impact of bullying, isolation, stress, and grief and familiarize yourself with common mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression.
  • Acknowledge their frustrations, feelings, and fears. Do not minimize your child’s emotions or life experiences. Remember, a little validation goes a long way.
  • Follow their cues. Say things like, “Tell me more about that. I’d love to understand more about what that’s like for you. When he said that/did that to you, how did that make you feel?” These statements let them know you are listening while placing the power in their hands.

    Finally, remember that it’s important to be patient.


    “If your child isn’t ready to talk, leave the invitation open,” adds Dr. Yu Moutier. “Say something like ‘Whenever you want to talk, I’m here to listen and support you.’ Or ‘I won’t judge, and I’ll never stop supporting you, no matter what challenges you face.’ The likelihood that your child will open up when you least expect it, whether it’s sitting side-by-side rather than face-to-face, in the car, or engaged in some other activity together, is high.”