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How to Support Mental Health for Parents and Teens

Strategies to help young people and caregivers cope with emotional obstacles.

Key points

  • Parents are suffering anxiety and depression at about the same rate as teens.
  • Depressed teens are about five times more likely than non-depressed teens to have a parent with depression.
  • Over a third of teens feel they have no purpose or meaning in life.
Mental Health America (MHA)/Pexels
Mental Health America (MHA)/Pexels

It's not a secret that teenage mental health has been a national concern for a long time, with the rates of depression doubling over the past decade.

Earlier this year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory entitled, "Social Media and Youth Mental Health," digging into the complex world that teenagers and youth are dealing with online, especially when they are not emotionally prepared.

Although social media is the most common reason experts point to for teen depression, young people have also been struggling with academic stress, loneliness, as well as sleep deprivation.

Parents are suffering (too)

According to two nationally representative surveys in the U.S., about one-third of teens had a parent suffering from reported anxiety or depression.

Caregivers and parents are human, too. They are not only anxious about their child's well-being today in this troubled world, but they typically also have worries of their job, cost of living, and other grownup concerns. It can be extremely overwhelming.

The research shared some key points:

  1. Parents suffering from anxiety or depression are often wonderful parents despite these emotional challenges. However, depression and anxiety in parents have been linked to academic, emotional, and physical problems in children.
  2. Depressed teens are about five times more likely than non-depressed teens to have a depressed parent. Anxious teens are about three times more likely than non-anxious teens to have an anxious parent.
  3. A significant majority of parents are attuned to their teens' emotional states and perspectives, but many parents are not. This disconnect is strongly linked to depression and anxiety in both parents and teens.

Prevention strategies

We often read why people of all ages are suffering with anxiety and depression. Rarely have we taken time to find ways to help prevent these emotional obstacles.

The Caring for the Caregivers report shares some takeaways:

  1. Communication is key for building a healthy relationship. According to this study, 40% of teens want their parents to "reach out more and ask how [they're] really doing—and to really listen." Parents may need guidance on empathic listening skills—and that is something many people can benefit from.
  2. Educating yourself on mental health. The more you know, the more you can help yourself and your teenager. Learn the basic facts about anxiety and depression and when your teen needs professional treatment, as well as guidance in managing your own anxiety and depression.
  3. Cultivating meaning, hope, and purpose. Teen sadness is real today; 36% of teens surveyed reported little or no “purpose or meaning in life” and this absence strongly correlated with depression and anxiety. Parents can help by getting them engaged in activities that focus on others and goals that are both rich sources of meaning and purpose.

Just because we are grown up doesn't mean we don't need help emotionally. It's important to know when to ask for help and reach out to professionals or even friends or family members if you are feeling overwhelmed. Your actions speak volumes to your children—you are their greatest influence and role model.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


Caring for the Caregivers: The Critical Link Between Parent and Teen Mental Health, Making Caring Common, Harvard Graduate School of Education (2023)

Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States, SAMHSA (2019)

Social Media and Youth Mental Health, HHS (2023)

Specification curve analysis shows that social media use is linked to poor mental health, Science Direct (2022)

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