A new parent survey of 1,000 parents shows that mental health awareness has increased over the last few years, but parents still feel confused about the best way to help their teens. Despite learning more about teen mental health and its warning signs, fewer than 1 in 3 parents are completely confident they’d know what to do if their teen were experiencing mental health problems that might require treatment.
Part of the problem is that parents aren’t sure how to move forward when a teen needs additional support. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 parents (16 percent) say one of the barriers they’d face in seeking mental health treatment for their teen is simply having no idea where to start.
Growing Awareness, Not Enough Information
Conducted by top market research consultancy firm Wakefield Research for Newport Healthcare, the national study asked 1,000 nationally representative US parents of teens ages 13–17 about their views on teen mental health issues. Moreover, the survey asked parents to report on perceived barriers to treatment should their teens need it.
Results showed that, for most parents, mental health awareness vastly outpaces information about community resources and treatment options. 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—only 37 percent—said that awareness had led to 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. Fewer than 1 in 4 parents in rural areas received this information, compared to nearly a third of parents in the suburbs and over half of parents in cities.
Parents Are Seeing These Common Mental Health Warning Signs
The parent survey also asked respondents what types of depression and anxiety symptoms would prompt them to seek mental health treatment for their teen. The most commonly cited symptoms include:
- Evidence of self-harming behaviors like cutting or reckless driving
- New or increased anger or aggression
- Comments about sadness or hopelessness
- Lack of interest in friends or activities
- New or increased use of substances, including alcohol or illegal drugs
- Academic struggles and communication from their teen’s teacher or guidance counselor
- Frequent minor physical symptoms with no clear cause.
3 in 4
parents have seen an increase in anger and aggression in their teen’s behavior
are less than completely confident they would know what to do if their teen was experiencing mental health issues
Close to half
of parents admit they aren’t completely comfortable talking with their teen about mental health issues
Parents’ Practical and Emotional Obstacles to Accessing Care
Despite recognizing their teen’s mental health symptoms, however, parents believe they would face a number of barriers to accessing treatment—both logistical and emotional. Chief among these was the cost of treatment; while some families do not have insurance, others are not aware that most insurance policies cover the cost of mental healthcare. In addition, about a quarter of parents cited lack of providers nearby as an obstacle.
In terms of psychological barriers, 43 percent of parents were concerned that they or their teens would be judged for seeing treatment, by friends, family members, and/or peers. And about a third of parents believed their teen’s resistance to treatment would be a barrier in accessing care. More than half of said they might feel guilty about having possibly contributed to the issue. Furthermore, 52 percent said they might feel confusion about whether they should have sought treatment earlier. These feelings could delay much-needed care for adolescents who are struggling.
Communication and Conversations About Teen Mental Health
Unfortunately, while mental health has become an increasingly common topic in the media, talking about it at home still isn’t easy. Close to half of parents (45 percent) admit they aren’t completely comfortable talking with their teen about mental health issues. Younger parents (those under age 45) are most likely to report being completely comfortable with these conversations—61 percent compared to 51 of older parents.
However, parents have greater ease discussing gender identity and sexual orientation than in the past. In fact, 80 percent of parents say they are mostly or completely comfortable talking about these topics with their teens. And the vast majority believe their teen would be willing to talk with them about it, if it was something they were struggling with.
Who Do Parents Turn to for Support?
When asked which professionals they would trust most when exploring treatment for their teen, parents cited three top sources in their communities:
- Nearly 3 in 5 parents (57 percent) say they’d feel most comfortable with their teen’s medical provider
- 41 percent would feel comfortable talking with a mental health treatment provider or crisis organization
- One-third of parents say they’d talk with their teen’s guidance counselor about mental health treatment
- 22 percent would contact a national or state-level teen mental health resource.
However, not enough parents are receiving ongoing support from their own inner circle. A significant percentage of parents—nearly 3 in 4—say they aren’t completely comfortable talking with others about their teen’s mental health. Only half of parents say they’d feel comfortable talking with a family member about getting their teen mental health treatment, and a third would be comfortable talking to a close friend about it.
That potentially leaves parents who are not comfortable with no outlet for open discussion and validation. And that can be a problem for both parents and teens. The parent survey found that nearly 2 out of 3 parents believe that their own mental health has a great deal of impact on their child’s well-being.
What Parents Look for in Teen Treatment
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. Seeking providers in the community is an important consideration; more than a third of parents say one of the things they’d look for in a mental health treatment program for their teen is proximity to home.
One element to look for in a mental health treatment program, however, is not on many parents’ radar—proven, positive treatment outcomes. Fewer than 2 in 5 parents of teens say this is something they’d look for in a treatment program for their teen. This is consistent among parents from all demographic groups.
A Treatment Approach That Supports the Entire Family
At Newport Academy, we involve the entire family in the treatment process, and our approach is designed to support parents as well as teens. The foundation of our treatment approach is Attachment-Based Family Therapy, an evidence-based modality that supports teen mental health and reduces risk of suicide by repairing parent-child bonds. Hence, teens can turn to their parents as a trusted and caring resource if they are struggling.
We understand that it can be difficult for parents to enroll teens in residential treatment away from home. However, our experience and outcomes show that residential care is often the most impactful and effective method of treatment. Teens are able to step away from their current environment, whether at school or at home, often find it easier to shift habits and create sustainable change. And parents are able to rest and restore after a challenging time, knowing their child is in a safe place, receiving the care they need. For teens who do not require the level of care provided in residential treatment, Newport Academy has outpatient treatment locations across the country.
Contact us today to schedule an assessment at no charge. Our Admissions experts are available 24/7 to help families find the right fit for treatment and assist in optimizing insurance coverage for mental healthcare. We are here to help.