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A Back-to-School Teen Mental Health Checklist

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As we head into fall, teen mental health is at an all-time low. A full 90 percent of teens report struggling with their mental health. Will going back to school help or hurt?

Some teens do better with the structure and socializing that school provides. But others have a hard time with the transition, and find the pressure of academics and peer interactions overwhelming.

Taking proactive steps to support the well-being of your teenager and the whole family can make a huge difference. Our teen mental health checklist provides 10 areas that adolescents and parents can focus on to make this school year a more positive experience for everyone in the family.

Key Takeaways

  • As we head into the school year, social media, bullying, loneliness, and fear about world events are contributing to poor teen mental health.
  • Families can get the year off on the right foot by providing teens with a set of back-to-school mental health tools and resources.
  • A teen mental health checklist should include positive habits and support for the entire family, including parents.
  • When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, families need to access care from a mental health professional.

Teen Mental Health Stats 2023

The latest statistics on adolescent mental health in the United States are heartbreaking. Here are some of the latest numbers from recent research and surveys.

  • 9 of 10 Gen Z youth are experiencing mental health challenges on a regular basis, according to a 2023 survey
  • 59 percent of adolescent girls and 29 percent of teen boys report feeling sad every day for at least two weeks during the previous year, according to the CDC.
  • 1 in 3 girls considered suicide in the past year.
  • 50 percent of high schoolers agree with the statements “I can’t do anything right” and “I do not enjoy life.”
  • 46 percent of LGBTQ teens (ages 13–17) seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. And more than 1 in 5 made a suicide attempt.
  • 70 percent of public schools are seeing increases in the number of students seeking mental health services.

Why Are Teens So Sad?

There isn’t one single reason why so many teens are struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, and sadness. Rather, a combination of factors is causing the teen mental health crisis. These include:


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Set Teens Up for Success with a Back-to-School Mental Health Checklist

Whether going back to school makes teen mental health worse or better depends on the teen’s personality as well as the quality of their relationships with peers and teachers. However, families can get the year off on the right foot by providing teens with a set of back-to-school mental health tools and support systems.

We’ve created a checklist for teens and families that you can download for easy reference and access to information and support systems when you need them!

Here are 10 items to put on a teen mental health checklist.

#1: Regular Check-Ins with Parents

Open communication is vital for teen mental health. It’s proven to support well-being and decrease substance abuse and other risky behaviors. But it isn’t always easy to get teens to talk to you about what’s really going on in their lives.

One approach is to start the conversation when you’re doing an activity together—driving, walking, or shopping, for example. Or when you’re saying goodnight to your teen, ask a question about how they’re doing. Sometimes it’s easier for a teen to open up when they can avoid direct eye contact, or when it’s dark in the room before bed. 

Here are some tips for talking to teens, including dos and don’ts.

#2: Down Time That’s Not Screen Focused

During the school year, it’s easy for teens to get overscheduled teens with homework, extracurriculars, sports, music, etc. Some teenagers may enjoy being busy and productive. But over time, the go-go-go can leave any teen exhausted and drained. And feeling continually stressed can lead to anxiety and depression. Teens need time to rest and recharge.

However, it’s important that downtime doesn’t become screen time. Hiking, creative expression, yoga, meditating, or making music can help regulate an adolescent’s nervous system and build self-confidence. And if the whole family can do these activities together, they get the added bonus of strengthening parent-child bonds—plus more opportunities for communication.

#3: Ways to Cope with or Prevent Bullying

About 20 percent of teens experience bullying, and most bullying behavior takes place at school. Parents need to be aware of the signs of bullying. Because teens often feel ashamed of being bullied, they may not talk openly about it.

Teens who experience bullying have a high risk of mental health issues like depression and anxiety. In fact, one study found that mental health problems were four times higher among boys who had been bullied and 2.4 times higher among girls who had been bullied.

Here are some strategies teens can use to deal with bullying:

  • Have a few neutral phrases to use when facing a bully, such as “Not funny” or “Cut it out”
  • Walk away—don’t react or engage with the bully
  • Keep a straight face without showing anger or fear
  • Make sure to have supportive friends with them in situations where they may encounter bullying
  • Let teachers or other adults know what’s going on. This may be hard for teens, but parents can let them know that doing so is not “tattling,” it’s a way to protect themselves and other potential victims.

 #4: Tools for Staying Organized

The better set up a teen is for going back to school, the more empowered and relaxed they’ll feel. Parents can help them find the right methods for getting organized. There are many tools available, ranging from a simple checklist or spreadsheet to more sophisticated time-management tools. 

Along with organizing their tasks, teens may also need support organizing their personal space and keeping it tidy. Spending most of their time in a messy room can negatively affect a teen’s mood. In fact, living in a cluttered space has been shown to contribute to anxiety and depression.

Learn more evidence-based tips to help teenagers get back in the school routine.

#5: A Self-Care Schedule

A back-to-school teen mental health checklist should include basic self-care. To maintain good mental health, teens should focus on these four essential aspects of self-care:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Good nutrition
  • Regular exercise
  • Personal hygiene

It doesn’t usually help to nag your teen about their self-care. But parents can help by setting up a balanced schedule for the whole family. For example—unplugging from devices before bed, eating meals together, and doing physical activities as a family.

#6: Support Systems for Teens and Parents

It’s not just teens who are struggling with their mental health. According to a recent survey, one-third of teens have at least one parent who is experiencing anxiety or depression. Notably, 1 in 5 mothers of teens had symptoms of anxiety. Just as teens’ distress affects parents, kids feel worse when their parents are suffering. Therefore, a teen mental health checklist should include support for all family members.

Start with your teens’ school. Check with school administration to see if they offer clubs or get-togethers focused on teen mental health. What services does the school guidance counselor provide? Does the school have a staff member who focuses on providing support for teens who are having a hard time socially, emotionally, or academically?

Support groups are also a great way for family members to get resources and connect with peers who are having similar experiences. Teens and parents can each attend their own support groups. LGBTQ teens may find a great support network through their local PFLAG chapter or other community group. For teens or parents in recovery, 12-step groups might be a good fit. Contact us to find out about mental health services in your area.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup, so we have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of those around us. There is this idea that when you become a parent it has to be all about the child, but can we love our children if we are not taking care of ourselves? [Doing so] is not selfish—it’s self-care and it’s self-preservation.”

Samantha Quigneaux, LMFT, National Director of Family Therapy Services, Newport Healthcare

#7: Resilience Practices

Resilience is the ability to withstand and recover from adversity and stress. Having resilience doesn’t mean a teen will avoid sadness, disappointment, or failure. But adolescents who are resilient bounce back more easily from challenging experiences. And there are plenty of challenging experiences to navigate at this age.

The building blocks of resilience include self-compassion, gratitude, mindfulness, and connection with others. Here are some simple ways teens and their parents can strengthen these qualities:

  • End each day by looking back at the last 24 hours and appreciating three good things that happened, whether big or small.
  • Before you brush your teeth in the morning and evening, close your eyes and take three slow, deep breaths.
  • Whenever you notice negative self-talk in your head, stop and imagine you were speaking to a close friend. Then give yourself a new, positive message.
  • Express your gratitude to someone you appreciate—in person, by phone, or by text. 
  • Get a journal or sketchpad and write or doodle something in it every night before bed.
  • Do something for someone else every day, even something small like holding open the door for the person behind you.

Download our step-by-step toolkit to building resilience for teens, young adults, and parents.

#8: Playlists for Processing Emotions

If there’s one thing teens have in common, it’s how important music is to them. Whether they love hip hop or emo or Taylor Swift, music is one of the biggest ways teens explore their identity and connect with peers. And it’s also a powerful way for them to cope with emotions. Research shows that listening to music helps support young people’s well-being, even when the music is sad or angry.

To support their back-to-school mental health, teens can create playlists of songs that are meaningful for them. They might want to make a playlist to give them energy, one to listen to when they need to relax, and one for when they’re feeling sad. And they can share those playlists with friends, or create one together. Music can become a safe space to help teens process when they’re dealing with difficult emotions.

#9: Relaxation Exercises

Relaxing after a stressful day isn’t always easy. When a teen’s nervous system is in fight-or-flight mode due to multiple pressures and activities, they may have a hard time winding down. Being able to deeply relax helps restore teens’ energy, focus, and well-being.

A teen mental health checklist should include relaxation skills like visualization and simple breathing techniques. Practicing these techniques during the day can help teens calm down before a test or after a difficult interaction. Relaxation techniques can also help teens sleep better at night. That’s important, given that poor sleep is associated with a higher risk of suicidal thoughts.

Here are some evidence-based relaxation skills for teens.

#10: Professional Mental Health Resources

Developing daily habits to support their well-being can help teens thrive in the coming school year and into the future. However, a teen mental health checklist might not provide adequate support for some adolescents. If they are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, trauma/PTSD, grief, or other emotional or behavioral challenges, parents need to take action to seek additional support.

Depending on the severity of their symptoms, teens may benefit most from weekly therapy, an outpatient treatment program, or residential care. An assessment with a mental health professional is the first step. A clinician can determine a possible diagnosis and help families find the appropriate level of care. Newport provides teen mental health assessments at no charge, in person or online. Contact us to get started.

When to Seek Help for Teen Mental Health Issues

Shifting from a summer schedule into the school year can be hard for teens. In fact, being a teen is hard in general: They’re dealing with hormonal shifts, social pressures, and emotional and psychological changes. 

That’s why it’s so tricky for parents to distinguish between typical teenage behavior and warning signs of possible mental health disorders. But being able to recognize red flags in teenage behavior is an essential skill for parents. Knowing what to watch for can help teens get the care they need before serious mental illness develops. 

Here are the 15 most common warning signs of teen mental health issues. 

Newport’s Approach to Teen Mental Health Treatment

Newport Academy offers specialized treatment for teens and families that addresses the root cause of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other co-occurring issues. Teens learn healthy coping skills to support emotional regulation, develop self-worth, and build authentic connections with themselves and others.

Our residential treatment and outpatient programs around the country address the needs of teenage girls and boys within a supportive and caring environment. Each teen’s tailored treatment plan includes individual, family, and group therapy; academic and life skills support; and experiential activities like yoga, music, and art. 

Contact us today to get started with a teen mental health assessment, at no charge.


Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health2021; 15(74): 10.1186.

CDC Weekly. 2021 Apr; 70(13); 490–494.

Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2021.

J Youth Studies. 2015; 18(9): 1119–1134.