Getting help for teenagers

man talking to boy on seats
man talking to boy on seats

man talking to boy on seats

The following information is for parents who do not need help with a crisis or emergency. If you need help right away, see our emergency help page.

Knowing when to get help for your teenager’s mental health can be difficult. They may not be willing to acknowledge that they are struggling, or you may wonder whether the issue is serious enough for you and your child to get help. The good news is that there are a lot of options for help and support depending on what your child’s needs are, and what they are ready for. Getting help early will give your child the best chance of managing mental health problems before they become more serious.

This can help if:

  • you’re worried about your child’s mental health, but are not sure if it’s serious enough to get help
  • you want to know how to get help for your child’s mental health
  • you want to know what kind of help is available.

Get help early

Most mental health difficulties first appear between the ages of 11 to 25, while the brain is going through a process of rapid development. Around 1 in 4 young people have experienced a mental illness by the time they are 25. It’s important to look out for signs of mental health or emotional problems in your child from an early age. When mental health conditions are treated and managed early, the episode of illness is likely to be less serious and have a shorter duration.

Mental health conditions are generally episodic, which means that your child will likely experience periods of being unwell in between stretches of time where they function well. Learning to spot the signs and symptoms of your child’s mental health problems early will mean that you’ll have the best chance of managing the illness and getting them the help and support that they need.

Unfortunately, only around 30% of young people who experience psychological distress actually get the help that they need. This can be due to a number of reasons, including:

  • not accepting they may have a mental health difficulty
  • not believing their problem is significant enough to warrant help
  • unwilling to disclose their problem because of the stigma attched to mental illness
  • lack of belief that anything or anyone can help
  • environmental factors like cost, distance, inflexible opening hours and long waiting times
  • close adults and friends not noticing or recognising the signs and symptoms and therefore not supporting the young person to seek help.

When to get help

Knowing when to get help for your child can be difficult. At times, the signs and symptoms of mental health problems can be similar to the ‘growing pains’ of being a teenager. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between ‘normal’ teenager behaviour and when there might be something else going on.

Mental health difficulties will surface differently for everyone. There’s no ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’, except in relation to your own child’s behaviour. As a parent, you have an important perspective, you’ve spent years with your child getting to know their patterns of behaviours and emotions. You’re well placed to detect when your child’s own ‘normal’ has changed. If the change is affecting your child’s life negatively and they’re not able to function effectively in daily life, it may be time to get help. Remember to trust your instincts, if you think there might be something wrong, it’s best to find out.

What to do next

There are many different types of help and one way is not necessarily better than another. Different approaches will work for your child differently. Sometimes it’s a combination of approaches that works best.

The first thing to do is to have a conversation with your child and find out more about what’s going on. Things to remember when having a supportive conversation:

  • take it seriously, actively listen to what they are telling you
  • be positive in approaching the situation and suppor them to take a first step
  • be your child’s greatest advocate in getting the right help for them
  • be optimistic that you will get through this together.

Even if your child doesn’t open up at first, you’ll have shown that you’re concerned and willing to talk. Once you and your child have acknowledged there may be a mental health difficulty going on, it's time to look at support options

Page last review by ReachOut Parents Clinical Advisory Group on