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How to help friends who are suffering from anxiety or depression

Teenagers are usually the first to notice when a friend has a mental disorder. Find out how you can help.

In recent years, mental health disorders in children and teens have increased. Untreated mental disorders in children can be serious. Approximately one-fifth of all children suffer from a mental disorder. The second most common cause of death among those aged 15-24 is suicide. Around 18% of adolescents and teens have self-injured in their lifetime.

Many adolescents and teenagers are reluctant to ask for help or support.

Vanessa Simpson, Behavioral Health Manager at Children’s Health , explains that teens often confide in friends when experiencing mental health challenges. Peers may notice the signs of a friend’s need for help through social media posts or comments made in conversation.

Parents should talk openly and proactively with their children about mental illness and what to do if a child or friend is experiencing anxiety, depression, or suicidal feelings.

What are the most common mental disorders among teens?

Teens may experience mental disorders. Anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness among teenagers and adolescents. Other disorders include anxiety, substance abuse disorders, ADHD, and eating disorder.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes mental disorders as serious change in how someone behaves, learns, or manages their emotions. This could make it difficult to get through the day.

What are the signs that a teenager needs help for a mental illness?

Multiple signs and symptoms may indicate that teens are having mental health trouble or experiencing suicidal feelings. Some of the most common signs that someone close to you may have a mental illness include:

  • Threatening harm or death to themselves
  • Writing or speaking about death
  • Acting recklessly
  • Withdrawing from other people
  • Exhibiting dramatic mood changes
  • Expression of hopelessness or a lack of reason to live
  • Donating prized possessions

Asking your teen about their feelings is the best way to determine if they are exhibiting these symptoms. Let your teen know that it is okay to intervene if they see a friend displaying any of these symptoms.

How can you support a friend who has a mental illness?

It is important that your child feels comfortable in telling their friend that they are worried and want to assist. Ensure your teenager understands it’s not only their responsibility to protect a friend. Even though they may be the ones to take action or be concerned about a friend’s well-being, it is important to contact a trusted adult to get professional support and help.

Here are some ways teens can support a friend who has a mental illness:

  • Support your friend by showing empathy for their situation.
  • Asking direct questions can help you better understand their feelings. Openly discussing mental health issues, including suicide, with a friend can help them feel better.
  • Tell your friend that recovery is possible. They can get help by talking to a trusted adult.

Parents should talk to their teens about who they can contact to help friends with mental health issues.  All are trusted adults including Parents/guardians, school staff (counselors or administrators), or suicide hotlines. Please encourage your child to seek support for their friend and not feel guilty or bad about telling an adult.

You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling or sending 988. There is also a presence of Chat feature on this website. In case of an emergency, or if no trusted adult is available, you can call 9-1-1.

Although mental health issues are common among teenagers, help is available, and recovery is possible.

Children’s Health has one of the most comprehensive mental health programs for children and teenagers. Our experts can access the latest treatments and research for mood disorders and depression. Please find out more about our Pediatric Psychiatry & Psychology services.

Virtual Visit Behavioral Health allows you to receive emotional support and care from the comfort of your home. Video technology allows you to speak with a licensed therapist or board-certified psychiatrist during a behavioral care appointment. Find out more about Virtual Behavioral Health.

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