3 Ways to Help Teens Find Mental Health Support

May 21, 2024

With teens and young adults facing a mental health crisis, “stigma” is often blamed for young people’s reluctance to reach out for help. However, recent research finds other barriers—and steps to overcome them.

Key Takeaways

  • Teens are increasingly struggling with mental health issues, but concerned about seeking support.
  • While the stigma associated with mental health support has widely been blamed for their reluctance to reach out, bigger barriers exist.
  • New research reframes the role stigma plays as a mental health care barrier and shows parents and caregivers how they can help the teens in their lives.

Teens and young adults are facing mental health challenges at an alarming rate. Recent research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 42% of teens say they experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year—up about 50% from 2011. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth and adolescents.


Mental health care and resources can be crucial elements in preventing suicide and alleviating the suffering mental illness can bring, but young people are often reluctant to reach out for help. Often, stigma—or negative connotations associated with mental health care—is blamed as the main issue. However, recent research by The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit member of the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health, found more significant barriers to accessing care. Here’s what parents and caregivers need to understand, and how they can help.


Worry and Fear May Prevent Care-Seeking

The Jed Foundation found that there are greater barriers to seeking mental health support than stigma. Instead, teens worry that:


  • Others won’t understand them.
  • Talking about difficult feelings may make them feel uncomfortable.
  • They may be a burden to others.


While stigma isn't the primary barrier for most teens, as often thought, stigma-related issues do play a role in their hesitation to seek mental health care. The top stigmarelated barriers included not wanting anyone to know they are struggling; not wanting to be seen as weak; and feeling shame, embarrassment or guilt around seeking help. The research also notes that these issues could also be related to protecting their image, which is important at this life stage.


Some Teens Face Specific Challenges

Asian, Hispanic/Latinx, Black/African-American, and LGBTQ+ teens each showed challenges in specific areas, reducing their tendency to reach out for support compared to their peers. For example, Asian teens reported that help-seeking and sharing emotions are not accepted in their cultures.


Hispanic teens reported feeling unsafe or unsupported in seeking help, and feared both how they would be perceived by others and retaliation for seeking help.


Black and African-American teens were worried about privacy, disclosure and trust. They were more likely than the general population of teens to report that if they were to reach out for help, that person would escalate the situation in ways they are not comfortable with (50% versus 42% for general population), and feared the person would share what was discussed with others (50% versus 37%).


LGBTQ+ teens were more likely to fear being a burden to others, not being taken seriously and being seen as lesser than others if they reach out for help.


Recognizing that feelings and barriers related to seeking mental health assistance may vary depending on the individual can deepen understanding and help alleviate fears and concerns.


How Parents and Caregivers Can Help

Even in the face of such obstacles, parents and caregivers can make a difference. Fortunately, parents and caregivers are often a “first stop” when teens need help. By being open, transparent and supportive, parents and caregivers can make teens feel more comfortable getting the help they need and give them tools to find mental health care. Here are three ways adults can help:


1. Take a “support-first” approach when talking to teens about mental health. Refrain from judgment about the situation and, instead, acknowledge challenges and talk openly about your own experiences with mental health challenges and care.


2. Resist problem-solving. Try to resist the urge to address teens’ problems for them. Often, teens need a listening ear and to feel understood, heard and respected. This creates a safe space for them, and can encourage future moments of reaching out for support.


3. Introduce teens to strategies and tools that can promote help-seeking. Show interest in the apps and online tools teens use to find information about mental health and coping strategies, and provide guidance around sourcing accurate information. Offer practical strategies that teens can easily implement to identify and talk about their feelingswatch out for warning signs and determine when to seek help, and educate teens on how professional help can improve their lives.


This research underscores the top concerns holding teens back from asking for mental health support. It also helps refresh our understanding and narrative around stigma, address the real barriers for seeking help, and build positive, supportive environments that help teens to prioritize their mental wellbeing. For more information, read the full report “Unraveling the Stigma: Exploring Barriers to Mental Health Support Among U.S. Teens.”