Mental health – adolescents

  • Mental health is the emotional, social and behavioural wellbeing of any infant, child, young person or adult. All people, no matter what their age, can have mental health problems. Good mental health is important for healthy development, and research tells us that recognising and addressing problems early can help improve outcomes.

    Having good mental health involves:

    • having healthy relationships and close bonds with family and friends
    • managing feelings and responses in a range of situations
    • being able to cope with challenges
    • having a positive outlook
    • developing and having good self-esteem
    • being able to play, learn and be social with others

    Signs and symptoms

    Adolescence can be a challenging time for parents and young people, and changes in behaviour and mood are common. Knowing what’s normal and recognising the signs of social, emotional or behavioural problems in older children and teenagers can be difficult for parents.

    The following symptoms may be a sign of mental health concerns in a teenager, especially if you notice these issues being present most of the time and affecting your child’s ability to cope with day-to-day life at home or school:

    • Having trouble coping with everyday activities.
    • Seeming down, being frequently tearful.
    • Lacking motivation or interest in things they once enjoyed.
    • Increased irritability or aggressive behaviour.
    • Sleeping difficulties.
    • School refusal.
    • Avoiding social contact, withdrawing from interaction with friends.
    • Repeated use of drugs or alcohol.
    • Loss or increase of appetite.
    • Difficulties with attention, memory or concentration.
    • Self-harming behaviours.
    • Feelings of hopelessness or talking about death.
    • Paranoia (fear of something bad happening or being watched by others).
    • Hallucinations (seeing, feeling or hearing things that other people don’t).
    • Risk taking, impulsive behaviours or criminal behaviours.
    • Complaints of frequent physical pain, such as headache, tummy ache or backache.
    • Losing weight or being very anxious about weight or physical appearance.

    What causes mental health problems?

    The exact cause for most mental heath problems is not known. Many factors combine to affect a person’s social and emotional wellbeing, including factors from their environment and factors they inherit from their family. Drug and alcohol use is a risk factor for mental health problems in teenagers. It’s important to remember that difficulties with mental health in children and teenagers are no-one’s fault, and no-one is to blame. 

    Adolescents, particularly between the ages of 15 and 18, are at increased risk of having a mental health condition. Early adolescence is a time when young people want independence from their parents, but skills such as problem solving, decision making, and impulse control are still being learnt as the brain develops. Often, adolescence is a time of increased stress from school, family, and social pressures. Everyday challenges (eg. family breakdowns, making mistakes, bullying or a falling out with friends) may be harder to overcome during this time in a young person’s development.

    How you can help

    Building resilience in adolescents can help them to cope and recover more easily from difficult situations. Having strong, positive relationships and spending time with your child is key to building resilience.

    It is also important to encourage healthy habits. Parents can promote good mental health in their teenagers by:

    • Encouraging a healthy diet, exercise and adequate sleep.
    • Listening to concerns in a compassionate way.
    • Problem-solving together with your child.
    • Helping them to develop coping strategies for future challenges.
    • Showing interest in what’s happening in their life and celebrating achievements.
    • Encouraging talking about emotions or problems.
    • Spending time with your teenagers one-on-one and together as a family.

    When to see a doctor

    Often parents don’t feel confident in seeking help for problems with their child’s social, emotional and behavioural wellbeing. It’s important for you and your child to have support. You should speak to a professional and encourage your child to join you in seeking help if they continue to have difficulties after you have tried general strategies to help, if things do not get better or start to get worse, or the difficulties are beginning to interfere in your child’s everyday activities. A school teacher, school counsellor or GP are good starting points to help you access the right help for your child.

    If your child talks about suicide or self-harm, seek help from a medical professional. If you or your child is in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm, contact emergency services on 000.

    More information

    There are many community services available if you have concerns about your child’s mental health or you’d like more information:


This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.