When to help your teen find mental health support

Learn about the warning signs and how to guide your child.

Тийнейджър, който се чувства тъжен и е седнал в средата на стая
UNICEF Bulgaria/2021
05 May 2022

Throughout adolescence, nurturing and supportive parenting remains one of the strongest protective factors in maintaining well-being and good mental health. Positive relationships with parents and caregivers remain central to development and mental well-being in adolescence.

There are times when you may notice changes in your child’s behaviour, mood, or enjoyment of favourite activities. You may be worried about them and be unsure how to help. Some of these changes may be related to usual developmental stages. Still, if these changes remain for a few weeks and interfere with their everyday functioning, it is important to seek help.

If you notice one or more of the following behaviours in your child, you should consult with a primary health care provider or a psychologist:

  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
  • Trying to harm oneself or making plans to do so, talking about suicide
  • Experiencing sudden, overwhelming fear for no reason, which sometimes includes a racing heart or fast breathing
  • Engaging in fights or expressing a desire to hurt others
  • An unhealthy relationship with food, which may include eating too much, eating too little or an excessive engagement in sporting activities in order to lose weight
  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating or staying still
  • Use of drugs or alcohol
  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships with family and friends
  • Drastic changes in behaviour or personality

When supporting your teen who you notice may be struggling with any of the above, be sure to give them assurance, tell them that help is available and ask them for permission to seek additional help unless you think they are a danger to themselves or others. You can do so by saying things like:

  • “It’s really good you told me about this. Together, we are going to get you some more help so that you don’t have to keep feeling like this. Would you be okay with that?”
  • “I notice you haven’t been yourself lately, and with everything going on, that is totally understandable. I know someone I trust who could hopefully help you feel better. Would it be okay if we find a time for you to meet with them?”

If your child refuses to give permission, you can discuss your worries with a health provider who may be able to guide you on what to do to support your teen, or help you to assess any red flags.

The most important thing is to show your child that you care, that you love and support them and that you will be there for support no matter what. You may both feel a bit lost on what steps to take, but reassure your teen that you will figure it out together and that their well-being is your priority.

If you feel your teen is a danger to themselves or others, you can seek help by calling your national helpline. If your country does not have a helpline, please seek professional support from trained and experienced carers.

This article is based on UNICEF and the World Health Organization's Teacher’s Guide to the Magnificent Mei and Friends Comic Series.