Teen Depression and Anxiety: What Parents Can Do to Help

Hitting adolescence means a whole new set of challenges and feelings, which can be overwhelming to say the least. It’s not unusual for a teenager’s mental health to suffer in reaction to these scary changes, sometimes resulting in anxiety disorders and depression. With Mental Health Awareness Week taking place between the 18th-24th May 2020, it’s an important time to recognise the struggles teens are facing with depression and anxiety. Here’s what parents can do to help their teenage son or daughter if they’re struggling with these mental health issues.

Recognising Depression and Anxiety In Teens

As parents it’s usual to notice changes in your son or daughter’s behaviour, however, teenagers can be very secretive when it comes to mental health issues and will often try and hide how they’re really feeling. Many of the tell-tale signs may also be dismissed as teenage mood swings or be blamed on hormonal changes. That’s why it’s so important to be able to recognise symptoms of common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, so you can start giving your teen the help and support they really need.


Generalised anxiety disorder is a condition where someone regularly feels very worried about a range of everyday things – so much so that it starts to affect their everyday life. Often there isn’t an obvious reason why they feel anxious. Even though anxiety is experienced by most people at some point in their lives, during the teenage years it has become very common. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 1 in 3 of all adolescents aged 13 to 18 will experience anxiety.

Keep An Eye Out For

  • Changes in behaviour, such as irritability
  • Poor school performance or school avoidance
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Substance abuse or other risky behaviours
  • Gets tired quickly and is often restless
  • Avoiding activities or social interactions
  • Chronic physical complaints, such as fatigue, headaches, or stomach aches

What Teens May Be Feeling

  • Worried about normal parts of everyday life
  • Finding it difficult to control the worry
  • Experiencing regular body signals like butterflies, a sinking feeling, tension or nerves
  • Unexplained aches, pains and nausea

Depression In Teens

Adolescence can be an extremely tough time and depression affects teenagers far more often than many of us realise. It’s even been estimated that one in five adolescents will suffer from depression at some point during their teen years. Teen depression goes beyond moodiness and is a serious health condition that causes an overwhelming sense of sadness, despair, or anger. It is also associated with a number of other mental health problems, including eating disorders and self-harm.

Keep An Eye Out For

  • Teens ‘acting out’ in an attempt to cope with their emotional pain. For example: problems at school, drug and alcohol abuse, reckless behaviour, anger and violence.
  • Sadness, hopelessness, low self-esteem or frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities/things that usually make them happy
  • Poor school performance
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Constant fatigue and lack of energy
  • Not caring about what happens in the future

What Teens May Be Feeling

  • A sad or irritable mood for most of the day
  • No energy or feeling unable to do simple tasks
  • Feeling worthless, no motivation or enthusiasm
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Not wanting to spend time with family or friends

How Parents Can Help

Acknowledge Their Feelings

The first step when trying to help your teen with anxiety or depression is to acknowledge their feelings. It’s very important that you don’t dismiss or ignore them and instead reassure them that you’ll be there to support them no matter what. In fact, simply acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel understood and supported.

Listen and Talk Openly Without Judgement

Talking is key to recovery for teens suffering with mental health conditions and having a strong support system of friends and family is essential. Once you start talking through how your teen is feeling, it’s vital that you take the time to actively listen to them, resisting any urge to criticise or pass judgment – the important thing is they’re communicating openly with you. Helping your child identify out loud exactly what triggers their feelings will also mean they start examining their thoughts and behaviour, which can be an important first step in trying to get better. Building up this strong parent-teenager relationship can also have a positive impact on their mental health going forward.

Encourage A Healthy Lifestyle

If your teen is suffering from anxiety or depression, as parents it’s crucial that you are encouraging them to live a healthy lifestyle. The basics for good mental health include a healthy diet as well as around 9-10 hours of sleep a night. Exercise is also essential to good mental health, so get your teen active. Think outside the box: walking the dog, dancing, going for a bike ride, a walk on the beach or skateboarding – as long as they’re moving, it’s beneficial to them.

Set Screen Time Limits

Teens often go online to escape their problems, but when screen time goes up, physical activity and time with friends and family goes down. Help them out by kindly setting some screen time limits, especially when it comes to social media usage. Not only are many teens addicted to scrolling social media for hours on end, it’s also very easy for them to start comparing their life, their looks and abilities to what they see others posting on Instagram and Facebook. This can be extremely unhealthy and can have a negative impact on their mental health, often worsening feelings associated with anxiety and depression.

Tell Them About Your Own Experiences

Often teens can feel alone and isolated when suffering with anxiety or depression, as it’s not very likely they’re openly discussing it with their friends at school. Try and share your own experiences with mental health issues, communicating honestly about how you felt and ways you eventually came out of the other side. Sharing will also help build up trust and hopefully encourage them to come to you if they have questions or need help. It’s also a good idea to remind them that suffering with anxiety and depression isn’t something to be ashamed or embarrassed about and many people will experience it at some point during their lifetime.

Don’t Delay Getting Help

Finally, if you think your teen is struggling with anxiety or depression, it’s important to get help for them sooner rather than later. Putting it off until things get worse can cause lasting damage. We recommend either visiting your local GP/health centre or enlisting the help of a counsellor or psychologist who is qualified to professionally help your teen talk through their thoughts and feelings and support them though the process of getting better. Other options for getting help include school based counsellors or support groups, local mental health services or charities such as Mind, Place2Be, Rethink Mental Illness, The Mix or YoungMinds.

Check out the Mental Health Awareness week websitefor ways you can get involved.