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Amid Teen Mental Health Crisis, Many Parents Lack Confidence in Helping Struggling Children

For most parents, mental health awareness vastly outpaces information about community resources and treatment options.
Photo: Shutterstock

Sixty-nine percent of parents lack confidence in their knowledge of what to do if their teen is struggling with a mental health issue. This is according to a survey conducted by market research consultancy firm Wakefield Research for Newport Healthcare, a national network of evidence-based treatment programs for teens and young adults with primary mental health disorders.

For the study conducted over the summer, 1,000 nationally representative U.S. parents of teens ages 13 to 17 were asked about their views on teen mental health issues, as well as what they perceived to be barriers to treatment should they need it. For most parents, mental health awareness vastly outpaces information about community resources and treatment options.

“It has been well-established that our nation is in the midst of a teen mental health crisis predating but exacerbated by the COVID pandemic,” says Joe Procopio, CEO of Newport Healthcare. “This study helps advance the discussion about teen mental health, moving us from a place of awareness to action, by diving into the options and obstacles parents face when seeking help.”

The study found that more than three quarters (76 percent) of parents believed the pandemic gave them greater awareness about teen mental health struggles and signs to watch for, yet less than half that many (37 percent) said it brought information about available mental health resources. There were also clear differences among those who received information on mental health resources and those who did not: less than 1 in 4 parents in rural areas (22 percent) received this information, compared to nearly a third of parents in the suburbs (32 percent) and over half of parents in cities (51 percent).

In total, 62 percent of parents surveyed do not feel a great deal of support from their community for their family’s mental health issues. And sadly, about half (45 percent) of parents are not completely comfortable talking to their teen about their mental health struggles.

Still, mental health is among the top concerns for parents of teens going back to school this. Eighty-six percent of parents surveyed said that losing the structure and routine of school over the summer had an impact on their teen’s mental health. And many parents rely on schools for red flags about their children, with 50 percent saying that communication from their teen’s guidance counselor or teacher about potential mental health issues would influence them to seek treatment. Similarly, 32 percent of parents say they would be most comfortable talking to their teen’s school guidance counselor if their teen was struggling with a mental health issue, underscoring the vital role these professionals play.

The decision to seek mental health treatment for a teen comes with mixed emotions for parents. More than half of them (56 percent) said they might feel guilty about having possibly contributed to the issue and 52 percent said they might feel confusion about whether they should have sought treatment earlier, feelings that could further delay much-needed care. When treatment is the next step, parents said that family involvement in the treatment process is the most important factor in their search for care, followed by individualized treatment plans for their teen’s specific needs.

“This aligns with research that demonstrates the importance and long-term value of family involvement in treating patients with mental health issues,” says Procopio. “It also affirms the distinctive family-centric approach taken by Newport Healthcare, where the family is the key to healing.”

The survey seemed to confirm the persisting stigma of mental illness, with just 52 percent of parents feeling comfortable talking to others about their teen’s mental health and only half (50 percent) feeling comfortable discussing these issues with another family member. Fifteen percent of parents said that fear of judgment by family members, friends, or other parents would be a barrier to them seeking mental health treatment for their teen.

“Ultimately, considering our current crisis, this study exposes an urgency to educate families and communities about available resources to address teen mental health issues, and the critical need to further reduce the stigma of mental illness,” says Procopio. “Given that each day in our nation, there are an average of 3,700 suicide attempts by young people grades 9 to 12, taking such action will literally save lives.”

About The Author
julieKeller_author-1

Julie is the co-founder of Well Defined and a longtime influencer and advocate in the wellness world. Along with her work at Well Defined, she is an executive recruiter and marketing specialist for Hutchinson Consulting. She is also a consultant and content strategist for numerous wellness brands. She is the former editor-in-chief and publisher of American Spa and was named a 2019 Folio Top Woman in Media in the Industry Trailblazers category and a 2018 winner of ISPA’s Innovate Award. She is also a seasoned journalist, specializing in spa, travel, health, fitness, wellness, sustainability, and beauty. She has been published in Departures, ForbesTraveler.com, E! Online, Gayot.com, Insider’s Guide to Spas, Luxury Travel Advisor, Marin Magazine, Ocean Home, Smart Meetings, Spa Asia, and Travel Agent.