How to navigate your teen’s mental health
Grumpy. Moody. Emotional. How often would you use these terms to describe your teenager? It’s understandable - raising a teen is no easy feat!
Sure, it might just be puberty or hormones, but what do you do if they’re like this for long periods? Or if it seems more serious than their usual mood swing? It could mean there’s something deeper going on…
According to our latest nib State of the Nation Parenting Survey, 77% of Kiwi parents are concerned about their child’s mental health – a 4% increase in the last two years. More prevalent in older kids, a third of parents with senior high schoolers have concerns for their child’s mental health and among those aged 14 to 17, one in eight had experienced mental health issues in the last six months.
Mental health issues in our teens have doubled in the last decade, now even labelled the ‘silent pandemic’ among our Kiwi youth.
Why are teens more vulnerable?
During adolescence, the brain is undergoing rapid development and our frontal cortex (AKA, the emotional control centre) shuts down for a period of time.
This forces most of the activity to the limbic system (the emotional brain) and turbo charges emotions, all while the brakes of their control centre aren’t fully functioning.
This often means negative emotions are heightened, and is why we often see higher rates of anxiety and depression in adolescence, as emotions are much harder to control.
Some warning signs to look out for:
- Mood swings, including increased irritability
- Persistent low or depressed mood impacting daily routines
- Lack of motivation or concentration
- Lack of interest in hanging out with friends or enjoying usual activities
- Increased tiredness and fatigue
- Problems with sleeping (e.g. trouble going to or staying asleep)
- Change in appetite (e.g. eating significantly more or less)
- Unexplained health issues, such as stomach pain
Tips on approaching your teen if they’re showing concerning behaviours:
Show you’re always there for them. It can be difficult for teenagers to talk about personal issues – especially with parents. Give them space while letting them know you’re there, whenever they’re ready to open up.
Ask and listen. Use open ended questions to encourage them to share their thoughts, and then focus on making sure they feel heard.
Don’t be dismissive. Acknowledge how they feel and don’t downplay their emotions, even if you don’t fully understand.
Be conscious of your reactions. Remain calm, supportive and aware of how you react. You want them to feel comfortable coming back to you in future, so don’t be judgemental or get angry.
Ask how they want to be supported. Talk to your teen about how they’d like you to help them. Build trust by finding out what they want to keep private, and what they’re comfortable being shared with others.
Educate yourself on mental health. Learn about different issues and how to be an effective support person. Platforms like Clearhead offer online tools and resources so you can get mental health first aid training, including when and how to involve professional help.
Consult your doctor or mental health professional. If you’re struggling to support your teen and are worried about their mental health, reach out for professional support.
Free mental health resources you can access:
- YouthLine provides a number of free resources for youth and anyone supporting youth, as well as a confidential and non-judgemental telephone counselling service. Call 0800 37 66 33 anytime or text 234 between 8am and midnight.
- The Mental Health Foundation has a dedicated section for depression in youth. The site contains information on symptoms, support groups, brochures and helplines you can access.
- Lifeline’s helpline and textline offers confidential support from qualified counsellors and volunteers. Call 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357.
- Rainbow Youth provide non-judgemental and accessible support around gender, sexuality and mental health. Call (09) 376 4155.