Mental Health Treatment Tips for Teens

Things your teen can do to help them cope with anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other mental health issues.

What do we do when our kids are having mental health problems?

Counseling?

Medication?

There are many tools your teen can learn to help them manage anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues.
There are many tools your teen can learn to help them manage anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues.

Cognitive behavioral therapy?

Whatever we do, there are times when they might need a little more help

Mental Health Treatment Tips for Teens

Most importantly, teens with mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, should know what to do when these specific problems flare up (follow the links for detailed advice):

  1. extra anxiety – learn to manage anxiety when it attacks with different exercises, like deep breathing, focusing on their five senses, thinking positively for 12 seconds, or laughing at a video they typically find funny, etc.
  2. extra social anxiety – are there specific social situations that make your anxiety worse during which you will need extra help
  3. extra sadness – learn grounding and mindfullness skills
  4. not being able to sleep – teens who have trouble sleeping should learn about progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery
  5. not being able to get out of bed – call your health care provider if this happens most days and have a plan in case it happens once in a while
  6. feeling lonely
  7. wanting to self medicate – see your health care professional if you are turning to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with stress. Overeating is another negative coping skill to avoid.
  8. getting more easily distracted – talk to your health care provider, as this can be a sign of worsening anxiety and depression
  9. getting angry
  10. coping with a breakup – how can they deal with the heartbreak after a breakup?
  11. getting bullied – you’re not alone.
  12. feeling like you want to hurt yourself – teens thinking of hurting themselves should know that they should seek immediate help

Whatever they are going through, it is especially important that your teen knows that things will get better!

Although that often doesn’t seem likely when you are in the middle of a crisis, it is true.

That can be easier to understand once you review these stories of hope and recovery!

What else can you do?

In general, things like keeping a journal, getting daily exercise, and talking to your friends and family members are positive coping skills that can be helpful.

Create healthy habits and avoid spending too much time online.

“We all need a little extra help sometimes. If you are feeling sad, afraid or overwhelmed, talk to someone you trust – whether it is a family member, close friend, therapist, or case manager. It is important to reach out for help if you need it.”

Hey Teens! Take Care of Your Mental Health

You can also always talk to your pediatrician or other health care provider.

More on Mental Health Tips for Teens

Teen Depression Screening

It is recommended that pediatricians screen all teens for depression each and every year.

It is estimated that only about half of teens with depression get diagnosed and then, only about half of them get treated.

We should do better.

And we can, if we start routinely screening all teens for depression.

Teen Depression Screening

The idea of having pediatricians screen for depression isn’t new.

And it hasn’t always been just about screening kids for depression.

In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics began to recommend that pediatricians screen new mothers for postpartum depression using the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale or a simpler 2-question screen for depression.

“The primary care pediatrician, by virtue of having a longitudinal relationship with families, has a unique opportunity to identify maternal depression and help prevent untoward developmental and mental health outcomes for the infant and family.”

AAP on Incorporating Recognition and Management of Perinatal and Postpartum Depression Into Pediatric Practice

Next, in 2014, the AAP began to recommend that adolescent depression screening begin routinely at 11 years of age. This recommendation was added to the 2015 Recommendations for Preventive Pediatric Health Care, a policy statement that was published by the AAP Committee on Practice and Ambulatory Medicine and the Bright Futures Periodicity Schedule Workgroup.

They also continued to recommend screening for maternal depression at 1-, 2-, 4-, and 6-month visits.

A score of 3 or higher on the PHQ-2 could be a sign that your child is depressed.
A score of 3 or higher on the PHQ-2 could be a sign that someone is depressed and needs further evaluation.

The latest recommendation is that all “adolescent patients ages 12 years and older should be screened annually for depression (MDD or depressive disorders) with a formal self-report screening tool either on paper or electronically (universal screening).”

Other depression screening tools are also available, including the:

In addition to yearly depression screening, the latest guidelines also talk about the need to establish treatment plans and safety plans for teens who are depressed.

Signs and Symptoms of Teen Depression

Let your kids know that there are hotlines to call if they ever need to talk to someone when they are feeling anxious or depressed.

Do you think your teen is depressed?

Have they been sad or angry on most days?

Does it seem like they don’t care about their usual activities anymore, aren’t sleeping well, are always tired, or have had a big change in their weight recently?

Are they doing poorly at school, seem extra sensitive to criticism, or have a lot of unexplained aches and pains?

Has your teen had thoughts of dying or suicide?

Call your pediatrician if you think that your teen is depression, or seek more immediate help if you think that your teen might hurt themselves.

Does your teen know how to TXT 4 HELP?
Does your teen know how to TXT 4 HELP?

Unfortunately, signs and symptoms of depression aren’t always easy to recognize in teens.

Hopefully, with universal depression screening, more teens will get diagnosed as early as possible.

What to Know About Depression Screening

It is recommended that pediatricians screen all teens for depression each and every year.

More on Depression Screening

Understanding and Treating Teen Sleep Problems

Although teen sleep problems are common, they can cause serious daytime issues for your teenager, which makes it important to learn about good sleep hygiene and that help is available from your pediatrician.

Do your kids have to get up too early because school starts too early?
Do your kids have to get up too early because school starts too early?

Parents often ask for help getting their kids to fall sleep and then stay asleep all night.

At least they do when they are little.

Teens often have trouble sleeping too though, but parents often don’t recognize these sleep problems and might not think to ask for help. They do likely see some of the issues that can be caused by a poor night’s sleep though, which can include irritability, sadness, a poor attention span, and hyperactivity, etc.

Why Teens Don’t Sleep Well

From being over-scheduled and having to get up early for school to staying up late on a screen, there are many reasons why your teen might not be sleeping well.

There are also many different types of sleep problems.

To understand what is causing your child’s sleep problems, ask yourself these questions and share the answers with your pediatrician:

  • Does your teen sleep at least 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours each night?
  • Does your teen have trouble falling asleep or does he just wake up a lot in the middle of the night? Or does your teen seem to sleep enough, but is still always tired?
  • Does your teen snore loudly at night – a sign of obstructive sleep apnea?
  • Is your teen taking any medications that could cause insomnia, such as for ADHD (stimulant) or allergies (decongestant)?
  • Does your teen have poorly controlled allergies, asthma (late night coughing), eczema (frequent itching keeping him awake), or reflux?
  • Is your teen drinking any caffeine in the afternoon or evening?
  • Do you think that your teen is depressed or has anxiety, either of which could cause problems sleeping?
  • Have you noticed any symptoms of restless leg syndrome, including a strong urge to move his legs when he is sitting or lying down?
  • Does your teen have too much homework and is staying up late trying to get it all done?
  • What does your teen do just before going to sleep?
  • Does your teen fall asleep easier when he goes to bed much later than his typical bedtime or does he still have trouble falling asleep?
  • Are your teen’s sleep problems new?

And perhaps most importantly, what is your teen’s daily sleep schedule like? What time does he go to sleep and wake up, including weekends, and does he typically take a nap?

Treatments for Teen Sleep Problems

In addition to treating any underlining medical issues that might be causing your teen to have trouble sleeping, it will likely help if your teen learns about sleep hygiene and:

  • goes to bed and wakes up at about the same time each day, instead of trying to catch up on “lost sleep” on the weekends
  • keeps his room bright in the morning (let in the sunshine) and dark at night
  • avoids taking naps, or at least naps that are longer than about 30 to 45 minutes
  • avoids caffeine
  • is physically active for at least one hour each day
  • doesn’t eat a lot just before going to bed
  • turns off all screens (phone, TV, computer, video games, etc.) about 30 minutes before going to sleep
  • doesn’t get in bed until he is actually ready to go to sleep, which means not watching TV, reading, or doing anything else on his bed
  • gets out of bed if he doesn’t fall asleep after 10 to 15 minutes and reads a few pages of a book, before trying to go to sleep again

Did that work?

If you teen is still having sleep problems, encourage them to try some basic relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and deep breathing or abdominal breathing. You do them at bedtime and again if you wake up in the middle of the night.

I especially like the idea of guided imagery for teens, as they can focus on something they like to do, whether it is building a sandcastle on the beach, or going horseback riding, surfing, hiking, or playing baseball, etc. They should focus on the details of the story they make up, coming back to it if their mind wanders, and hopefully they fall asleep as they get caught up in it.

With the deep breathing technique, they slowly breath in through their nose and out through their mouth. They can hold their breath for a few seconds or breath into their abdomen too (abdominal breathing).

Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that might help your child relax at bedtime. They simply tense and then relax each muscle group of their body, one at a time, starting with their toes and working their way up. If they make it up to their forehead and aren’t asleep, then they should work their way down, perhaps doing 3 to 5 repetitions for each muscle group,  or try another technique.

And be sure to talk to your pediatrician if your teen continues to struggle with sleep problems.

What To Know About Teen Sleep Problems

Although teen sleep problems are common, they can cause serious daytime issues for your teenager, which makes it important to learn about good sleep hygiene and that help is available from your pediatrician.

For More Information on Teen Sleep Problems