Supporting your teen through mental health challenges during coronavirus

Mother and daughter talking sitting on bed

The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is a challenging time for both teens and parents, with everyone spending much more time at home than usual and teens missing out on regular schooling and social activities. This disruption to routines can take a serious toll on mental health.

Even if your teen doesn’t seem to want your help, there are things you can do to help them cope with their current circumstances. They include recognising the signs that they’re struggling, and helping them to access mental health support through Telehealth.

Notice the signs your teen might be struggling

Even with good routines and habits in place, mental health can suffer during this time. Here are some signs that your teen may be struggling, and feeling depressed or anxious:

  • They are finding it hard to get out of bed, are sleeping more or less than usual, or are always tired.

  • They’ve stopped taking care with their appearance or personal hygiene.

  • They’re eating more or less than usual.

  • They’ve become withdrawn, avoiding friends, family and activities they used to enjoy.

  • They have outbursts of anger or irritability.

  • They’re tense and restless.

  • They’re engaging in risky behaviours.

  • They’re self-critical (e.g. they refer to themselves as ‘worthless’ or ‘stupid’).

Talk to them about it

If you think your teen is struggling, it’s important to talk to them about it. Here are some tips for checking in:

  • Pick a time when you’re not rushed and a place where your teen feels comfortable.

  • Some conversation starters include: ‘I’ve noticed that you’ve been sad/withdrawn/not yourself lately. Let’s talk about what’s happening’, or ‘I’m worried about you. Can we talk?’

  • Be honest with them if you feel a bit awkward talking to them about mental health.

  • Tune into their feelings. Ask them how they’re feeling, and then really listen to them. Don’t rush to fill silences or to offer solutions.

  • Don’t dismiss or downplay their feelings, even if hearing about them makes you uncomfortable. Mental health difficulties can happen at any age.

  • Ask them what they need in order to feel better, and what you can do to support them. Remind them that they’re not alone.

Keep up good habits

The rules around isolation are constantly changing, which can make young people feel worried, uncertain or anxious. The following are some tips to help your teen feel more secure and in control:

  • Stay informed about the current rules in your state, and provide your teen with up-to-date and age-appropriate information. Try to stay hopeful and positive, but be realistic.

  • Plan family routines to help your teen feel safe and secure. Regular bed and meal times, and routines around household chores, school work, fun activities and down time, are great for physical and mental health.

  • Help your teen plan how to structure their time, and to break large goals into smaller, achievable daily goals.

Getting professional help

Many young people struggle with their mental health in isolation, despite good routines and family support.Professional support can help your teen find a solution, or a combination of things, that suits them. Some options are:

  • Online and phone support (such as Kids Helpline, e-headspace and Youth Beyond Blue).

  • Psychological therapy – a psychologist will work with your teen over several sessions to manage their mental health symptoms.

  • Medication – this can be prescribed by a medical professional, such as a GP or psychiatrist.

Encourage your teen to see a GP they trust, or who has an interest in mental health, to discuss their difficulties and figure out the next step, which may include referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Many health-care professionals are currently offering Telehealth consultations (over the phone or by video). So, even if your teen is staying home, they can receive the help they need.

How to help your teen access Telehealth

  • Encourage or help them to book an appointment with a GP or a psychologist offering Telehealth, or book an appointment yourself for younger teens. Offer to sit in on the appointment, but respect their choices.

  • Help them to set reminders for sessions.

  • Ensure that they have a quiet, private space in the house, where they won’t be overheard or interrupted during their session.

  • Be available to talk with your teen about any concerns they may have following the session.

  • Respect their need for privacy and accept that they may not wish to discuss the session content.

What if your teen doesn't want help?

It’s really difficult to see your teen struggle with their mental health, and even more so if they don’t seem to want your help. The following strategies can be useful in this situation:

  • Offer to help, but then try to be patient. It’s not helpful to push them to open up, and it may take them a while to think things through, especially if they are depressed.

  • Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure your teen knows that they can always chat to you, and that you’ll be calm and reasonable when they do.

  • Encourage them to keep up activities they enjoy, and to stay connected to people and things that make them feel good. You can do some of these activities together, such as some form of exercise.

  • Encourage your teen to talk to another trusted adult, such as another family member, a teacher or a coach, or talk to such an adult yourself about your concerns and ask them to check in with your teen.

  • Make sure your teen has a list of resources handy that they can use when they’re struggling, including useful websites, phone lines and services offering online chat or forums, such as the ReachOut Forums, BeyondBlue (1300 22 4636)and Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800).

  • Remember that this doesn't mean that you've done something wrong. Look after yourself, have a chat with an adult friend or see a GP if this is affecting you.

This article was written by Andreea Heriseanu, Psychologist.