It can be hard helping your teen manage their anxiety. Learn how you can talk to them about their anxiety, and what professional support for anxiety is available if they need it.
Talking to your teen about anxiety
If your teen is acting differently than usual or you notice some signs of anxiety, the first step is to talk to them about it. Even if there isn’t anything going on, an open and non-judgemental conversation won’t do any harm and will only improve your relationship with your teen.
Be specific about what you’ve noticed and why you’re worried. For example, you might say: ‘You haven’t been seeing your friends recently. Is everything okay?’ Or: ‘I’ve noticed that you don’t seem to be sleeping well recently. Is there anything you want to chat about?’
When talking to your teenager, try to:
- Empathise and acknowledge their feelings. Teens often don’t speak out about their worries because they’re afraid that people won’t take them seriously. For a teenager experiencing anxiety, it’s especially important that they feel you’re taking them seriously and are there to support them. It’s normal for a young person to be focused on social relationships. Some worries may sound minor or illogical to adults; however, it’s important to show that you ‘get’ them, by acknowledging their concerns. You could say: ‘It sounds like you’re feeling really worried about this.’
- Listen and relate. If your child wants advice, they’ll ask for it. Otherwise, they just want to know that you’re there for them. Listen to what they’re saying and share your own experiences, to show that what they’re going through isn’t anything to be ashamed of.
- Check in regularly. Keeping the communication lines open, even if your teenager doesn’t want to chat right now, tells them that if anything happens and they need you, you’ll be there for them.
Whether your teen opens up to you straight away or not, there are things you can do to help their anxiety in the meantime. Read about how you can help your teen build coping skills for anxiety.
Professional support for teen anxiety
Depending upon the type and severity of your child’s anxiety and its underlying cause, self-management strategies alone might not be enough; it may be best to seek professional help for anxiety. There are many effective treatments available for anxiety, but it’s important to remember that treatment may take time and concerted effort. Don’t lose hope that your child can learn to live with anxiety. Be prepared to support them to find the help that works best for them.
Mental health professionals
Your GP will be able to refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist. The Better Access Scheme gives you ten Medicare-subsidised sessions a year. A mental health professional can work with your teenager using therapies like CBT or exposure therapy. Your teenager can also speak to a school counsellor or youth worker.
If your teen would prefer getting support from someone they can relate with, they might want to speak to a peer worker. Peer workers are trained mental health professionals who have their own experience of tough times and mental health challenges, and recovery. This experience helps them to form a strong connection with those going through similar mental health challenges. They can listen to what’s going on with your teen and help them feel more empowered to figure out what to do next.
Online and phone support
Some teens might prefer online or phone support, or it might be difficult for them to get to a doctor’s office. These types of support are also great for times when face-to-face help isn’t available, like at night or between appointments. Here are some options:
- Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800): phone and online chat available 24/7.
- Youth Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636): phone available 24/7, chat 3 pm – 12 am.
- Headspace: for online chats with other young people, guided by a professional.
- 13Yarn (13 92 76): for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, phone available 24/7.
- ReachOut Online Community: to connect anonymously with other young people.
- E-couch: a free online service to guide individuals through a CBT program.
Find more youth support services for anxiety here.
In some cases, a person being treated for anxiety may benefit from medication. When used together with talking therapies, medication can help immensely. Your GP and mental health professional will work together with you to find what works best for your teen.