When your adolescent’s mental health is strong, they can manage the emotional highs and lows that come with exploring their world. But in today’s environment, it’s common for mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, or even thoughts of suicide to emerge.

It's important for parents/caregivers to pay attention to teens’ mental health concerns and take them seriously. The right support at the right time can help your teen thrive and prevent problems with learning, relationships or harmful substances.

Help is available in Maryland through:

  • the 988 hotline (crisis support)
  • 211 teen texting program called MDYoungMinds
  • primary care providers, like your pediatrician or family doctor
  • school counselors
  • telehealth support programs
  • mental health professionals, like counselors, social workers, psychiatrists or psychologists

You can also search for mental health providers in the state's behavioral health database, powered by 211. Search for mental health resources or substance use resources.

If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide or needs to talk, call 988 in Maryland. It's a free and confidential call with a trained professional. You can also chat in English or Spanish.


Teens talking and supporting their mental health with their friendship

Teen mental health

Research shows that 50% of mental health problems emerge by age 14. Navigating these concerns as a parent and teen can be difficult. Know that you are not alone, and help is available.

In many kids, the problems go undetected or they don't get help.

Mental health concerns in teens and adolescents can appear in several ways. According to the Mental Health Association of Maryland, parents and caregivers should look for these signs of a mental illness or mental health condition:

  • Difficulty at home, school, or socially. The child may get into fights or do poorly at school.
  • Worries all the time.
  • Noticeable changes to sleep, mood, appetite, or behavior.
  • Patterns of repetitive activity that interfere with attending school, sleep, or appetite.
  • Increased feelings of sadness, anger, stress, worry, low self-esteem, and grief.
  • Doesn't laugh or smile.
  • Frequent tantrums, stomaches or headaches with no known medical cause.
  • Unable to sit still.
  • Doesn't appear to listen to instructions.
  • Acts without thinking.
  • Has behaviors that developmentally should no longer be an issue like clinginess, wetting, or soiling.
  • Has trouble making friends because of aggressive or frightening behavior.
  • Spends more time alone.
  • Avoids activities or things the individual once loved.
  • Harder time in situations that used to be okay.
  • Needs more support.
  • Has sexual behavior that's more than normal curiosity.
  • Plays with fire repeatedly.
  • Cruelty to animals.
  • Hears voices or sees things.
  • Uses drugs or alcohol.

If you have a concern, get help and support. Trust your gut as the parent or caregiver.

Signs of teen depression

Depression is one type of mental health condition. 20% of adolescents aged 12-17 years have experienced a major depressive episode, according to the CDC.

While we often think of depression as having the "blues," that's not always the sign, especially in children, teens/adolescents and young adults.

The signs of depression may change as the individual ages.

For example, some of the symptoms in a child with depression may be anxiety, being cranky, clinky or refusing to go to school.

Older children and teens may get in trouble at school, get frustrated easily, feel restless or have low self-esteem.

Young adults may be irritable and have a negative view of life, among other symptoms.

Depression is more than being moody. When these feelings continue most of the time for weeks and you can't focus or do things you once enjoyed, it's time to get help.

sad girl on social media

The National Institute of Mental Health suggests asking yourself these questions.

Does my child or do I feel….?

  • Sad, anxious, worthless or “empty”?
  • Uninterested in activities I once enjoyed?
  • Easily frustrated, angry, or irritable?
  • I’m withdrawing from friends and family?
  • That I’m not doing as well in school?
  • My daily eating and sleeping habits changed?
  • Tired, fatigued or have experienced memory loss?
  • Like harming myself or committing suicide?

Your symptoms may vary from a friend or family member’s symptoms. You can have a few symptoms above or just a few.

Social Media Warning Signs

There is a link between depression and perceived isolation and teens with high social media use.

High internet use and internet addiction are also linked with self-harm. Teens who spend three or more hours per day on an electronic device are 35% more likely to have a suicide risk factor like making a plan, according to research published in the Association for Psychological Science.

If you know a teen who talks about harming themselves or others, get help immediately. Call or text 988. You can also chat with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in English or Spanish.

Monitor your child’s social media and online activity.

Know the warning signs of psychological distress. These may include messages like:

  • “I can’t do anything.” #hatemsyself
  • “I hate everyone.”
  • Another day not going to school.
  • Negative hashtags and emojis like #depressed and #cutting.
  • Talk of wanting to die, intense and urgent emotional despair, giving away personal items, saying goodbye.
  • Impulsive behavior.
  • Insomnia posts.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of crisis, contact a trained professional immediately by calling or texting 988.

teens on social media

Suicide prevention among teens

The LIVEFORTHOMAS Foundation also supports teens struggling with mental health and illness. It's a foundation that Amy Ocasio started to honor her son Thomas who died by suicide. The foundation raises awareness and helps prevent suicide among teens and adolescents. She talked with 211 Maryland on "What's the 211?" podcast.

She spoke about the warning signs, including a shift in mood. She thought her son was improving because he was more upbeat after finding out he could graduate early to enlist in the military. Days later, he died by suicide.

That sudden shift in mood is a warning sign that an individual has come to terms with their plan and will follow through.

She talked about the stigma that prevented him from getting treatment and how on the outside he seemed like a happy person. She provides advice for talking to teens about their mental health and getting men to open up about it.

Talking about suicide can prevent it. Learn about the best words to use during these candid conversations.

Support for Parents

You know what to do when your child has a fever or ear infection, but what about treating their mental health? You can do the same thing - call your child's pediatrician.

They can help with mental health concerns like teen anxiety, depression, eating disorders, trauma and more.

Have an honest conversation. If the pediatrician doesn't offer in-office support, they can get you and your child support through the statewide mental health support system.

parent comforting depressed kid

Talking to your pediatrician

So, how do you talk to your pediatrician about your child’s mental health? Call and speak with the office and ask them for an in-person or telehealth appointment. Determine who should go to the appointment. Should both parents/caregivers attend, and should the child to go to the appointment?

The Mental Health Association of Maryland and BHIPP have a tipsheet with step by step instructions for talking to your doctor about your child’s mental health including detailed questions and talking points to start the conversation and get your child the help they need.

Before your appointment, document behavior and concerns so you have something to reference during the discussion and specific examples to discuss.

Be honest and detailed in these conversations. Remember, you are not alone and help is available. If the conversation is difficult, let your physician know that. Remember, you’re having that meeting because you care deeply about the child.

Your doctor may refer you to a wide variety of mental health professionals, including:

  • psychiatrist
  • psychiatric nurse
  • social worker
  • licensed professional counselors
  • psychotherapists
  • neuropsychologists

Telehealth support in Maryland

If you have a teen who is struggling with mental health, talk with your child’s school and their pediatrician. Maryland Behavioral Integration in Pediatric Primary Care (BHIPP) works with pediatricians, emergency medical professionals, family physicians, school nurses and other health professionals to support teens and adolescents.

Your doctor can speak with a mental health specialist to help you and your child manage mental health concerns.

Specialists are available in areas such as:

  • Medication management:
  • Diagnostic issues
  • Developmental delays
  • School/learning issues
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Trauma
  • Early childhood mental health

Through your physician, a referral can be made to BHIPP TAP. It’s a program providing specific mental health support such as telepsychiatry (consultation, evaluation, medication), telepsychology, and telecounseling (motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy).

Referrals are made through your primary care physician.

Mental health resources for teens and children

There are several resources to support teens and children with their mental health.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 for immediate support.

You can also search for counseling and support groups in the state's behavioral health database, powered by 211.

There is also a youth-focused text message support system available. Teens can sign up for MDYoungMinds. It provides supportive text messages. These may include resources on depression, teen and adolescent mental health and support programs.

Maryland Coalition of Families

You can also get support from organizations like Maryland Coalition of Families. They support mental health services for children and can help you navigate services at school and in the community while also advocating for your child at every stage of development.

Download their Children's Health Matters Family Resource Kit in English or Spanish. It's a comprehensive guide to mental health symptoms and signs while also providing treatment options and support in Maryland.

Through the Maryland Coalition of Families Taking Flight program, teens can also connect with peers who’ve experienced a mental health concern or trauma.

Mental Health Association

The Mental Health Association of Maryland also has detailed information for specific mental health conditions and resources that can help.

behavioral health help for child