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Talking to Teens – Tips for Open Communication About Mental Health

Published on: May 6, 2024

Parents Teens Talking

The time of life, known as the teenage years, can be seen as a time of immense change. They go through physical development while being pressured socially and dealing with academic demands. All of these things could significantly affect their mental health. During this time, they need to have open communication with trusted adults.

Why is Open Communication Important?

Teens often struggle with mental health conditions but don’t seek help because they are afraid of judgment or stigmatization or lack the language to express themselves. Open communication makes teens feel safe enough to talk about their emotional well-being and allows adults to detect problems early enough. Early intervention can significantly improve a teenager’s prognosis and future mental health.

Creating a Safe Space for Conversations\

  • Build Trust – There cannot be open communication without trust, so show interest in your teen’s life, listen without judging, and respect their privacy.
  • Lead by Example –  Discuss your feelings, thoughts, and experiences around mental illness so that they know it’s normal not to be okay sometimes.
  • Find the Right Time –  Avoid starting a conversation when stressed, angry, or preoccupied. Look for relaxed moments when they seem more receptive.

Starting the Conversation Thoughtfully

  • Open-ended Questions –  Instead of asking questions that only need “yes” or “no” answers, opt for those that elicit detailed responses. For example, how has school been lately, or what do they think about upcoming exams?
  • Active Listening –  Pay attention not only to what is said verbally but also non-verbally so that you may pick up on any cues the person gives. Whenever they express their feelings, try as much as possible not to disregard them. Instead, let them know it’s perfectly normal to feel that way under such circumstances.
  • Focus on Specific Concerns –  Do so empathetically without blaming anyone when addressing specific worries. Instead of saying, “You have become withdrawn recently,” say something like, “I’ve noticed that you seem quieter than usual. Is anything bothering you?”

What to Look For?

Open communication allows teenagers to talk about what they are going through, but sometimes, they cannot put it into words. Here are some things you might want to keep an eye on:

  • ● Mood or Behavioral Changes –  If your child often seems sad or easily irritated and gets angry frequently, this could indicate something wrong beneath the surface. Similarly, if they stop socializing with friends or family without any good reason, something might be up too.

    ● Sleep and Appetite Disturbances –  Your child could start sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping. Alternatively, they may lose interest in food altogether, while others may overeat as a way of coping with emotional pain.

    ● Difficulty focusing or finishing tasks –  Keep an eye out for sudden decreases in grades, especially if it’s accompanied by problems completing assignments within set timelines. This could signify the presence of mental illness, e.g., depression.

    ● Increased Substance Use – Using drugs/alcohol/tobacco more than usual can be indicative of underlying psychological issues such as anxiety disorder(s), etc.

    ● Self-harm/ Suicidal thoughts – If you suspect that your teen is harming themselves, seek immediate help from mental health professionals.

Beyond the Basics – Addressing Specific Concerns

While open-ended questions and active listening are necessary, some situations require a more targeted approach. Here are some tips for addressing specific mental health concerns with your teenager:


Depression can show itself as persistent low mood, loss of interest in activities, changes in sleep or appetite, and difficulty concentrating. If you notice any indication that your teenager is battling depression, ask them gently what they feel inside. Ask if they have hopelessness or thoughts about harming themselves. Encourage participation in things they used to enjoy doing together with connecting with supportive friends and family members—stress upon seeking professional assistance without delay.


Anxiety may appear as excessive worry or nervousness about something happening or physical symptoms like stomachaches/headaches plus ‘fearful’ behaviors where individuals avoid places/events due to possible adverse outcomes associated with it. Talk through different situations that trigger anxiety attacks among teens while helping them figure out ways how best to deal with such knowledge, e.g., relaxation methods such as deep breathing exercises, etc. Let your child know their fears are valid, then assure them it will be okay.

Eating Disorder(S)

Anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) – both these eating disorders can be life-threatening and connected to severe mental illness(es). If you see dramatic shifts in eating patterns/increased focus on weight/shape, and frequent going to the toilet after meals, express concern over these signs. Listening attentively might help, so ask open-ended questions like “Tell me more about what happens when…” Also, encourage Talking to somebody specializing in mental health, such as a doctor or therapist.

Substance Abuse

Using more drugs/alcohol/tobacco than usual may indicate there is an emotional turmoil underneath it all. Do not hesitate to talk directly about your worries. Make them aware of the dangers associated with substance abuse while also highlighting the importance of finding healthier coping mechanisms. If the need occurs, let them seek professional support.

Social Media & Technology

Social media has a tremendous impact on mental health, especially among teenagers. Talk through potential downsides of spending too much time online, e.g., comparing yourself with others or cyberbullying. Encourage setting limits around screen use + engaging in face-to-face activities more often.

Strategies for Different Communication Styles

Teens communicate differently depending on their personality type – here’s how you can adapt:

  • The Talkative Teen – Have open-ended conversations about their day, interests, and feelings with the extroverted child.
  • The Quiet Teen –  For introverted teens, create a safe space to express themselves without words (e.g., by drawing). Pay attention to non-verbal cues like body language and provide opportunities for written communication.
  • The Athletic Teen –  Sports-loving teenagers will respond well when mental well-being is linked to physical fitness, so suggest activities such as yoga, which promote relaxation and self-awareness.
  • The Artistic Teen –  Creative individuals might find it more effortless to express themselves through art forms like painting or writing poetry – encourage this outlet for emotional exploration if applicable.

Let Harmony United Psychiatric Care Help You!

Harmony United Psychiatric Care has a team of professionally qualified mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and counselors specializing in teens. We offer individual therapy, medication management, and other evidence-based treatment options to help teenagers succeed in mental health challenges and realize their maximum potential.

For more information about mental health conditions, visit our Mental Health Library page. To understand and cope with your major depressive disorder symptoms, get help from our top psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists, who are known for providing the best mental health treatment and psychiatry services. To book an appointment, please call us at (800) 457-4573 or submit an appointment request.

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