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Mental health and teenagers

Having a child with mental health problems can put a massive strain on your own sanity and emotional well-being. Throughout your child's life you’ve picked them up after a fall, put plasters on their cuts and been the voice of reason when they are confused or unhappy.  

That’s why it can be especially challenging for you to discover your child is suffering from a mental health problem. Suddenly you are dealing with an issue so complicated it cannot be cured with a cuddle. So what can you do to help?

Mental health problems

Mental health problems can totally disrupt daily life. They are very real and can be very painful.

They influence the way the affected individual views themselves, their lives and others around them. But they can also play havoc with the relationships they have, placing huge strain on those that are closest to them.

It's perfectly normal for family members to worry about how to deal with a mentally ill child. As parents you are likely to feel a torrent of different emotions ranging from guilt, fear and anger, to confusion, sympathy and terrible sadness.

Mental health problems can seem insurmountable, but they can be overcome with care and treatment. It is important you get as much support as you can. You are not alone and should not bear the burden without help.

Getting help

Awareness of mental health issues has grown in the last few decades and there is more help available for all types of mental health conditions. Even the stigma associated with mental illnesses has been declining and people are more sympathetic to the range of issues and the need for treatment.

When it comes to finding the right help for your child, the key is to do so early. Don't be afraid to speak to doctors, teachers, social workers, friends and relatives if you have any concerns about your child's behaviour or emotions.

Educate yourself

Explore all options available to meet your child's needs. Your GP should be the first port of call as they will be able to tell you about what is on offer in your area and make a referral to a specialist if needed.

Check your library, the health department, and the social service section of the telephone book for places that might offer the kind of help you are looking for.  

There's also a lot of information on the internet about available services in your community. It’s important you do not cope alone so seek advice from the outset.


Once you have voiced your concerns to your doctor, they are likely to ask you a lot of questions.

This is because you are considered the expert when it comes to your child. However strange their behaviour has been, you are still the person who knows them best. 

Be honest. Your opinions will count when any decision is made about what treatment your child will receive.

There are lots of options when it comes to treating mental health problems. A lot will depend on the condition itself, how your child is coping with it and whether they are displaying any dangerous behaviour.

Options include counselling, medication, therapy and in very serious cases, hospital care. 

Being sectioned – what does it mean?

Being sectioned means the ill person goes into hospital or a special unit for young people and cannot leave until the doctor says they can.

Typical cases of people who have this treatment might include angry, violent individuals, those that are so depressed they are suicidal, or those with serious eating disorders who are making themselves very ill.

In other words, it only happens to people who have become a danger to themselves or others. 

What is it like if your child is in inpatient care?

Having your child put into a special unit like this can be very traumatic and confusing for parents. But if you find yourself in this situation, keep reminding yourself that you are doing it for their own good. 

It helps to know as much as you can about this kind of treatment before it starts so you can prepare your child as much as yourself.

During their time in the unit, your child will be monitored 24 hours a day by staff. They will probably have therapy and counselling sessions, take medication and be cared for by very experienced staff.

You may be encouraged to take part in some of the counselling sessions as a family and you will also be allowed to visit regularly.

Coping with being sectioned

Your child may find it very difficult at first, and they may feel very angry with you or with the staff for keeping them from leaving.

It can be very hard as a parent to listen to your child asking to leave a unit, but try and reassure them that you are still there for them and will help put their views to the staff.

Units can be very busy but try and remain in regular contact with staff so you are aware of how your child is doing.

If you are unhappy about any aspect of your child’s treatment, it is worth raising it early on, firmly but politely, with senior staff, and not letting the matter lie until your worries are addressed.

Life after care

With the correct care and treatment, most young people with mental health problems who are sectioned will go on to be released and return home.

This can be a difficult time for parents, who may feel like they are tip-toeing around their child, wondering what they can and can't say and worrying about doing something to upset the balance.

This is a time when you will need the support of others. There are plenty of organisations which can offer advice and even put you in touch with other families who have gone through the same thing.

Your child should also have a care plan for when they leave the unit so make sure you have a copy of this.

Stay strong

The most important thing for you to do is to stay positive as far as you can ‑ though don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day!. Positivity is catching and if your child sees you looking forward, they will be more likely to follow suit.

You should also remember that this is a time when your child will need to feel loved and supported.

This can be very difficult at times especially as your child may still be displaying some behaviour which may cause you emotional pain.

They may blame you for having them sectioned, they may feel stifled by your constant concern, they might also resent you for seeing them as ‘sick’.

Remain consistent

You may discover your child pushes you away a lot. Try to remain consistent in displaying your love and to separate the negative behaviours from who the child is as a person.

Stay strong and seek help if the situation gets too difficult, you are struggling to cope or your child starts to relapse.

Recovering from a mental health illness is a long, hard road, with many ups and downs for the patient and those around them, but it can be done.

More information

For further information visit YoungMinds.

Mind is a mental health charity that campaigns to create a society that promotes and protects good mental health.

The Parentline Plus helpline on 0808 800 2222 provides help and information for anyone caring for children.

The Mental Health Foundation also has a lot of helpful advice for parents of young people with mental health problems.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists also produce a helpful leaflet to help parents with children suffering from mental health problems.

Last reviewed by Great Ormond Street Hospital: 5 November 2009