Supporting Your Teen Through Mental Health Issues: Anxiety, Depression, and Emotional Regulation Skills

Have you ever wished you had a magic wand to banish anxiety and depression from your teenager’s life?

Every day, your teen could be dealing with multiple sources of stress, including the pressure to:

  • excel in academics
  • meet family and societal expectations
  • fit in with classmates
  • secure a promising future
  • cope with big issues like gender, sexuality, economic, and environmental concerns

All while projecting an online life full of so-called Instagrammable moments! No wonder your teen can feel overwhelmed.

While we can’t conjure away these burdens, we can certainly provide you with some powerful strategies to help your teen preserve a sense of optimism, even while navigating through emotional distress.

In this blog, we’ll dive into the world of teen anxiety and depression and explore effective strategies for emotional regulation. These strategies will serve as a guide to support your teen when you recognize their emotional distress.

Understanding Teen Mental Health Causes and Issues: Your Role as Parents

The U.S. Surgeon-General has called the alarming increase in mental health issues among American youth “the defining public health crisis of our time”. In fact, according to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011-2021, more than 4 in 10 (42%) students felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health in 2021. This emphasizes the importance of addressing these issues and providing support for your teen.

Icon of a brain thinking with a statistic below.

As a parent, it’s important to know that the teenage years are a crucial and often turbulent time affecting your child’s social and emotional development and their mental well-being. You can support them by encouraging good habits like practicing mindfulness, eating well, and getting regular rest and exercise, as well as helping them to develop strong problem-solving skills and supportive relationships. For good or ill, your teen’s friend group and the quality of your family’s home life also significantly impacts their well-being. In addition, watch for potential threats like bullying, violence, or possible substance abuse. Some youth may be at higher risk for mental health issues due to their specific circumstances and need additional care and support, including teens experiencing:

  • unsafe, unhealthy, or difficult living conditions
  • discrimination, poverty, and marginalized backgrounds
  • limited access to quality support and services
  • chronic illnesses, autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities, or other neurological conditions
  • pregnancy, parenting, early or forced marriages, or foster care

Signs your teen may be having mental health difficulties

In addition to more overt symptoms like mood swings, irritability, anger, and tearfulness, you may observe:

  • low energy
  • notable changes in sleep, weight, eating habits, or other everyday patterns
  • excessive exercising, or fear of gaining weight
  • loss of interest in the things they usually love, or quitting activities that they enjoy
  • spending more time alone, and withdrawing more than usual from friends, family, and community
  • canceling plans with their closest friends with little or no explanation
  • academic struggles that seem different or more intense: for example, failing quizzes in their favorite subject or refusing to do homework they used to easily handle
  • running thoughts or worries that won’t leave them alone
  • a whole new set of friends you’ve never met before
  • engaging in risky or destructive behavior alone or with friends
  • refusing to talk about what’s bothering them, even after you’ve made it as safe as possible to openly discuss hard issues
  • Obsessing over a certain goal, possibly with the belief that if they don’t achieve it, their life will never be the same
  • signs of drug, alcohol or other substance use
  • signs of self-harm such as cuts, burns, bruises, etc. that your teen tries to hide or can’t explain fully and credibly
  • indications they may be having suicidal thoughts
  • statements that they think someone is trying to control their mind or that they hear things that other people cannot hear

Remember, simply noticing one symptom from a list doesn’t necessarily mean your teen is facing a serious mental health issue. Biological changes, including hormonal shifts that all pre-teens and teenagers experience, can impact their mood, school performance, and more. However, if you regularly observe one or more of these signs, it’s essential to initiate a discussion about mental health with your teenager.

Emotional Regulation Skills: An Overview

Emotional regulation, the ability to effectively manage and respond to our emotions, plays a crucial role in maintaining mental well-being and can even alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression. When we take the time to release our emotions in a suitable manner and allow ourselves to recover, we experience a sense of satisfaction in how we handled the situation. This feeling of accomplishment not only improves our current mental state but also equips us to better handle similar situations in the future. The good news is that you, or a professional, can help teens to learn and hone these skills – and by actively working on emotional regulation, they can cultivate a healthier and more resilient mindset.

Practical Tips for Parents: Helping Your Teen with Emotional Regulation

A few tips to help your teen develop emotional regulation skills include:

Identify and reduce triggers: This is an important step in helping your teen manage their strong emotions. Encourage them to look for patterns in their environment and situations when they experience intense feelings. Sometimes, these emotions can stem from deep insecurities or past trauma, making it initially challenging to pinpoint their cause. However, having awareness of triggers is empowering, as it allows your teen to avoid them when possible and feel more in control when they cannot be avoided. Prompt your teens to reflect on what is happening around them and why it reminds them of something painful. By understanding and acknowledging these triggers, your teen can take proactive steps to minimize their impact on their emotional well-being.

Tune into their physical symptoms: Emotions can be amplified by other physical factors (e.g. being hungry or tired) — like turning up the volume of their feelings. Recognizing and addressing these factors might help temper their emotional response. Ask your teens if they feel more overwhelmed when they’re ‘hangry’, haven’t slept well, or maybe about to get their period.

Consider the story they’re telling themselves: We can’t read our teens’ minds, but we can consider the story they might be telling themselves. Strong emotions can sometimes cause us to jump to conclusions, and not always the right ones. Advise them to hold off judgment for a moment, and ask them: “What other explanations might be possible?”

Engage them in positive self-talk: When emotions are running high, self-talk can easily turn negative. Your teen may internally say “I messed up again.” “I’m useless.” Instead, encourage them to treat themselves with empathy and to think positively. “I always try so hard.” “I’ll do better next time.” Positive self-talk helps calm their feelings and transforms the moment into a plan for doing better next time.

Encourage mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness can help your teen stay connected to their emotions without feeling overwhelmed. Engage in guided mindful exercises with your teen. There are numerous resources available, including apps and websites that offer guided meditations or mindfulness exercises specifically designed for teens. Here is one. These exercises can help your teen relax, reduce anxiety, and increase their overall sense of well-being.

Promote healthy expression of emotions: Let your teen know that it’s okay to express how they feel. Validate their emotions when they do. Take their feelings seriously — sometimes your teen just needs you to listen and be there for them.

Help them curb impulsivity: When your teen feels angry or afraid, it’s important to remind them that their reactions can sometimes hurt the people around them, including you. Advise them to think before responding, to take a moment to pause and take a deep breath. Counting to ten can also help bring some calmness to their mind. By doing this, they can create space for a calmer, logical and kinder response. It’s crucial to focus on what’s best for both them and you in these situations.

Shift their focus to positive emotions: Human beings are prone to ‘negativity bias’ meaning we pay more attention to negative emotions than positive ones. Positive feelings are less dramatic, but so important to your teen’s mental health. Encourage your teen to try to focus on the positive moments, and the way it boosts their resilience and well-being.

Encourage and suggest stress management techniques: Techniques like deep breathing, physical exercise, and creative outlets can help manage stress. Encourage them to explore activities that allow them to express themselves. These activities can serve as a healthy escape and help redirect their emotions in a positive way.

Remember, as a parent, it’s essential to model these techniques yourself. By practicing these strategies and encouraging your teen to do the same, you create a supportive and healthy environment for both of you.

How Parents Can Support Teens Struggling with Anxiety and Depression

Supporting a teen struggling with mental health issues can feel overwhelming to them and to you. Here are a few ways you can help:

  • Validate their emotions: Let them know their feelings are real and important.
  • Build a strong support system: Encourage supportive relationships with friends and family and consider seeking the help of a professional counselor or therapist.
  • Seek professional help when necessary: If your teen’s symptoms persist or worsen, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. At The Bougainvilla House, we offer a range of services for youth and families.
  • Pay attention to your own mental well-being and seek help if you need it.

Early intervention is key in treating anxiety and depression. There are many professionals ready to help, from therapists and counselors to psychiatrists.

TBH can help

If your teen is having trouble coping with anxiety and depression, don’t be afraid to seek support for them.

If they want professional help, look for a safe person and space in which to talk. The Bougainvilla House is here for them, with an understanding and welcoming staff and environment. We are ready to assist them and your family. Take that important first step and ask for help.

The Bougainvilla House also offers Workshops to provide tools and strategies that support healthy families and nurture future generations as they grow.

Call now to find support for them and your family: (954) 764-7337.