Mental Health and Youth

Mental Health and Youth

There's a lot of pressure facing youth. They are going through puberty while trying to find out who they are and where they fit in. As a parent, you will most likely have questions about your youth's mental health. One of these questions may even include what is the difference between mental health and mental illness? In Ontario,1 in every 5 children and youth have some type of mental health problem. Some common concerns youth experience can include anxiety , depression , trauma , and self harm behaviours. We're here to help. 

By talking about mental health openly, you can help your child become a healthy and resilient adult. The videos and content below were developed with community partners to give you tips, tricks, and resources on how you can have THAT talk about mental health with your youth. 

Mental health and my youth

What physical, emotional and behavioural changes can I expect from my youth?

Your child goes through many physical and emotional changes between the ages of 11 to 18 years. Things such as height, weight, and other body changes happen during this time. They also go through a lot of emotional changes, mostly due to hormones. There will be times your youth will be happy one minute and then sad or angry the next. Youth tend to struggle with their sense of identity.

You can expect your youth to:

  • Change their hair, make-up, or style of clothing.
  • Be more self-centered
  • Say things like "I don't think you understand. You couldn't possibly understand me."
  • Take more risks, and feel like nothing can hurt them. They may try to ride their bike without a helmet, or try alcohol or drugs.

Although your youth might look happy, they might be struggling to:

  • Find their sense of identity
  • Feel accepted by their friends and social circle
  • Make sense of the changes their bodies are going through
  • Cope with the pressure and stress of school
How do I know if my youth is in good mental health?

A person is in good mental health when they are able to:

  • Perform activities of daily living like waking up for school, eating well, and showering
  • Feel cared for, content, and happy in their lives
  • Fit in and do things with their friends, family, and community
  • Feel in control and be hopeful of a positive future
  • Cope well with day-to-day challenges and stress
  • Feel good about themselves

You may notice some behaviour changes with your youth:

  • They may have changes in the friends that they hang out with
  • They may not seem to enjoy the same activities they did in the past
  • They may want to spend less time with family

For some youth, this might be typical. You might want to "have that talk" about mental health with your youth if this is not what you tend to see from them and feel worried or, if these changes persist.

When should I be concerned about my youth's mental health?

A mental health problem is a change in how the brain works. It affects your emotions, your thinking and your actions.

You might be concerned after hearing your youth say things like:

  • "If I don't hit something, I think I'm going to explode."
  • "I wish I could just stop feeling (sad, angry, worried, irritable)."
  • "If people knew what I was thinking, they'd think something's wrong with me."
  • "I hate myself."
  • "No one cares about me."
  • "There's no hope/future for me."

You should seek help if your youth:

  • Makes strong emotional statements that persist or that are worrying you
  • Shows behaviour that is not typical (that you're used to seeing)
  • Shows aggressive behavior When should you be concerned about aggressive behaviour?
  • Has a false belief that someone is trying to harm them
  • Sees or hears things that others do not
  • Has a flat mood or affect (they are not showing happiness or sadness, but rather neutral emotions or no real emotion at all)
  • Expresses thoughts of harming themselves or thoughts of death
  • Feels depressed
  • Feels a loss of control or powerless in their own lives

Get help for your youth right away by going to the emergency department of your nearest hospital if your youth:

  • Expresses thoughts of hurting themselves 
  • Expresses thoughts of hurting others
  • Says things like they want to die or just want to end it all
Should I be embarrassed by my youth's mental health problem?

As a parent of a youth living with mental illness, it's important to know that you are not alone. 1 in 5 Canadians lives with a mental health problem. Mental health problems are not caused by, weakness, or poor will-power on the part of your youth. You know your child best. We are willing as parents to get our children help when they have physical problems. Mental health problems need the same amount of attention, time, care, and patience.

When parents get their youth help early (through diagnosing and treating mental health problems) it leads to better outcomes for youth. And that's good news! Your youth is more likely to recover from their mental health issues and lead a full and positive life. To find out more about mental health problems and where to seek help, visit e-mental health.

Teaching my youth how to cope

How can I help my youth cope with stress?

One of the best ways youth can learn to cope with stress is by practicing resiliency and having a healthy relationship with their parent(s). Resiliency means learning how to bounce back from or deal with a hard time. The first step to help your youth build their resiliency is by being there for them. Let them know that they are loved and belong to the family and that you are there for them. You can show your youth you are there by truly listening to them, their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Remember to listen and validate before providing direction. A good way to stay connected with your youth is by:

  • Having meals as a family
  • Helping them with their homework
  • Trying an activity that they enjoy and can teach you

Do you want to learn more about raising resilient children and youth?

Learn tips on how to build a better relationship with your youth.

How can I model good problem solving skills with my youth?

As parents, we tend to want to jump right in and help our children. We like to solve their problems for them. We don't like to see them get hurt or be upset. In the end, this doesn't lead to positive and healthy outcomes. As they become older and turn into adults, we're not going to always be there to solve their problems. That's why it's important to focus on having a healthy relationship with them so that you can talk honestly and openly. This will help them learn how to deal with life's challenges.

You can model good behaviours with your youth by showing them how to cope with hard times in a positive way. You can do this by:

  • Taking emotion out of the circumstance. It's easy to get angry and lose our temper, but this can lead to making the situation worse.
  • Show that you've truly listened to them. Express your concerns calmly. This could look like "I see that you're worried. I also have some concerns about what might be going on at this party. I'm worried about your safety."
  • Invite them to solve the problem with you. This could look like "What do you think we should do about this party?"
  • Take time to listen. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Remember to listen before providing direction.
  • Teach them how to compromise. It's sometimes win-win, but not always.
How can I help my youth to move past difficult situations?

One of the best things we can learn in a difficult situation is how to make a positive out of a negative. Being optimistic or hopeful can help your youth to move past hard times more easily.

Let's say that your youth didn't make a sports team at school. They might look at it in a negative way, and say something like: "that coach hates me! That's why I didn't make the team." You can help your youth to look at it in a more optimistic way. Validate their thoughts and feelings and let them know that they might make the team next year. Maybe brainstorm with them what they could do to improve making the team next year. Give them other options. Show that their value doesn't depend on making the team. Ask them what other leisure activities they are interested in and explore this with them. This will help them move past the situation so it won't become a problem or issue in their life.

In some cases, the difficult situation can include separation, divorce , or a traumatic event . These can be more challenging for your youth to cope with and you as a parent may want more information on how to best help your youth.

How to "have that talk" about mental health

How do I start talking about mental health with my youth?

As a parent, it's important that you continue talking with your youth. Look for those one-on-one moments that present themselves:

  • When you're making dinner
  • While your youth is doing homework
  • While you're both watching TV
  • When you're in the car

When you're talking with your youth it's important to remember to:

  • Use straight-forward, clear, simple language. If you use big words, talk too much, or try to fix things your teen is going to tune you out.
  • Stay calm. Getting angry and emotional in a situation is not going to help.
  • Try not to be judgmental. Instead of judging them from a parental lens, try to put yourself in their shoes.
  • Listen. Listening is the most important part of communicating with your teen. Try to share their feelings and try to be understanding. Using statements like "I see" or "Tell me more about" shows active listening and is validating.
  • Be aware of your body language. Crossed arms or a stern look on your face might show your youth that you're not interested in what they have to say. Sometimes our body language speaks louder than our words.
  • Keep the warmth, it's important to continue to show (through your actions) love and warmth to your youth.
How can I get more information from my youth about their mental health?

If you think there is a problem with your youth's mental health, it's important to be sure. If your youth comes home from school and does not look happy, make sure you ask them about it. Talking to your youth is important, but can be difficult . Say something like "You look upset to me. Are you feeling upset?'" If there is a problem and your youth wants to talk about it, it's important to confirm and support how they're feeling. If they don't want to talk about it, it's important for them to know you're there for them when the time is right. Say something like "If you want to talk, I'd love to listen and will be here. Just come get me when you're ready".

Every youth is different, and they will have their own issues. Validating their individual thoughts, feelings, and experience is important to your relationship and them trusting you. A statement that would be validating looks like: "'Oh, I can see how upsetting it must be for you to have had that fight with your friend." If your youth wants to talk more or they want some help solving the problem, walk through some problem-solving steps with them.

When is it important to be firm with my youth?

Conflict is a natural part of any relationship. Being a parent of a youth, you can expect some conflict. You will need to pick your battles. For issues such as health and safety you may not want to compromise. For instance, you might not want your teenager walking home alone late at night. But, do you really want to go to war with your teen over how clean their room is? If you want help dealing with a crisis, you can always contact the Youth Services Bureau's 24/7 Crisis Line for some support, counseling, or advice.

How do I stay connected with my youth?

As your child becomes a teenager, you may think that they don't need or want you in their lives as much as you were in the past. In reality, teens do need and want their parents in their lives.

You can stay connected with your youth by:

  • Watching them at their extra-curricular activities like sports games, clubs, and school activities
  • Sitting down and watching TV or a movie together
  • Just talking with them
  • Doing an activity together that they enjoy
What every parent should know about depression and suicide


What should I look for if I think my youth is depressed?

It's normal for youth to feel sad. This sadness should go away on its own. It should not interfere with your youth's day-to-day living. Depression is sadness so severe that it gets in the way of everyday life.

Youth express themselves in different ways. If your youth is depressed, look for them to:

  • Feel isolated
  • Feel a great sense of sadness
  • Be more irritable
  • Show aggression and even rage
  • Lose interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Have problems as school
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Be tearful or cry more often
  • Withdraw from friends and family and isolate
  • Change their eating and sleeping habits
  • Be restless or agitated
  • Have a lack enthusiasm or energy
  • Feel tired
  • Have difficulty concentrating
  • Act recklessly
What should I look for if I think my youth is suicidal?

Some signs that your youth might be thinking of suicide are:

  • Openly talking about death or dying
  • Writing about death or dying
  • Feeling like they have nothing to look forward to in their future
  • Feeling like their future is bleak
  • An increase in weapons or increased interest in weapons
  • Serious mood changes

If you think that your youth is at immediate risk of suicide then call 9-11.

There are many myths about teenage suicide. One common myth is that if you talk about teen suicide you're planting the seed for teen suicide. This is not the case. Talk to your youth. Keep the lines of communication open. Share your concerns. This will lower chances of your youth feeling isolated and withdrawing.

If you are interested in taking a suicide prevention workshop please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association or Distress Centre Ottawa for more information.

How do I "have that talk" about depression and suicide?
  • Simply talking. Offer support. Keep the lines of communication open so that you can share your concerns with your youth.
  • Ask questions. Be cautious when you're asking the questions that you're not asking too many at once. Being direct is okay. You can ask your youth, 'Are you feeling depressed? Do you have thoughts of suicide?'
  • Listen to your teen. Try not to judge.
  • Keep at it. Try and try again. Your youth might not answer you right away. They might not give you all the answers that you need. Continue to ask the questions. Gather resources. Stay connected.
How do I support my youth living with depression?

Supporting your youth through depression can be a bumpy process. It's important to celebrate successes. If your youth is talking, that's a success. If you're still resilient, that's a success.

Just as it's important for youth to have someone to talk to, it's equally important for parents to have someone they can talk to. This could be reaching out to a friend, to a neighbor, or to a colleague. Being a parent of a teen with mental illness can also carry a sense of guilt. It's important to your own self-care to share what it is you are feeling with others. This is going to help you to support your teen from day-to-day in the way that you want to. If you want to talk but don't feel comfortable talking to a friend, consider calling the Parents' Lifelines of Eastern Ontario - they offer family support and support groups for families whose youth are dealing with mental health issues.

Do you have more questions about parenting?

  • Connect with a registered nurse from Health811 for free, secure, and confidential health advice. Service is available 24/7 in English and French, with translation support also offered in other languages. Call 8-1-1 or visit
  • Connect with a Community Navigator from 2-1-1 for information about community programs and resources across Eastern Ontario. Helpline service is available 24/7 and in many different languages. Call 2-1-1 or visit
  • Connect with other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.
  • There are a variety of services to make it easier for your child to grow up healthy in Ottawa.
  • You can update your child's immunization record using either the CANImmunize App or the Immunization Connect Ontario (ICON) Tool
  • If you have received a message from Ottawa Public Health such as a letter or a call regarding immunization, an infectious disease, or infection control lapse, please call 613-580-6744 and listen to the menu options carefully.

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