Pensacola Magazine

Children & Teen Mental Health

Understanding and Supporting Your Child

In recent years, the topic of children’s and adolescents’ mental health has made its way into the spotlight. With a troubling rise in anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns among youth, parents across the country are growing concerned for the safety and mental wellbeing of their child(ren).

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the rates of mental health conditions in children and adolescents are increasing. 9.4 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 5.8 million) had diagnosed anxiety and 4.4 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 2.7 million) had diagnosed depression from 2016 to 2019.

With the rates of mental health-related concerns on the rise, it’s clear that understanding and addressing the mental health needs of adolescents and children has never been more critical. It is important for parents to become aware of the common types of mental health conditions affecting children today, as well as the stressors and signs of those conditions. Recognizing the indicators of poor mental health and knowing how to provide the right type of support can sometimes mean the difference between life or death.

To learn more about some of the most common mental health conditions and stressors facing children today, as well as how parents can better understand and provide support to their children, we spoke with the Director of Children’s Outpatient Services for Lakeview Center, James Rhodes, LMHC. Rhodes has more than 20 years of experience as a licensed therapist and remains in the field with his position at Lakeview Center.

Mental health struggles can look different for every child. There are, however, some mental health conditions that childrens and adolescents commonly deal with. “For the younger children, it starts out mostly with behavioral issues in schools and sometimes homes. For the teenagers, we have been seeing a lot of depression, anxiety and family problems, as well as drug and alcohol use,” Rhodes explained.

With the internet and social media playing such a crucial role in today’s society, doctors and therapists have seen a rise in the number of youth facing mental health-related struggles. Today’s youth face stressors that weren’t around to affect children in previous generations. Rhodes explains that the use of social media can cause children to experience cyberbullying, a pressure to fit in or body image issues.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic also greatly impacted youth. When the pandemic interrupted the ability to have a traditional classroom setting, some youth struggled with the changes. “The transition back into school has been difficult for kids, especially if they were already having problems depending upon the amount of social interaction they had when school was out, the amount of family support, etc.,” Rhodes explained.

Today’s youth encounter these modern stressors in addition to other stressors that affected youth in previous generations. Experiencing social isolation, anxiety about school performance and changes in one’s family dynamic are also common stressors impacting children’s mental health.

Rhodes explained that youth can gradually or suddenly begin to show signs of mental health concerns, and that some of the signs of poor mental health that younger children typically demonstrate are changes in behavior, particularly social behavior. For example, if a normally outgoing child starts to become more introverted and shows less interest in social interactions, this is an indicator that they might be struggling.

Older children and adolescents often elicit signs of poor mental health through their day-to-day performance. Changes in appetite, mood, school performance, sleep patterns or socialization habits can often point to a larger mental health concern.

“There’s a large list of problems to look for, but mainly, it’s just changes in a pattern that’s been ongoing, especially a change in behavior. Everyone has their ups and downs, but if it’s been two or three weeks and you’re not seeing any improvement, then it might be time to seek help,” Rhodes said.

Detecting mental health struggles in older children and teens can be especially challenging due to the physical and psychological changes that they face at this age. Moodiness and subtle personality changes are normal for this age group.

“A lot of times, depression in children comes out as irritability. A parent may write it off as normal teenage behavior,” Rhodes explained. “[However,] if it continues for weeks at a time, and things are getting worse instead of better, it might be time to talk with your child.”

Opening the conversation about mental health can be a daunting task for parents. The task should not be overlooked, though, as parents play a significant role in their children’s psychological well-being. Parents can open the discussion about seeking help by normalizing mental health. “Listen to your child, be open to receiving help and be honest with them that everyone needs help at some point in time,” Rhodes said.

Explaining the normalcy of mental health struggles and emphasizing the importance of seeking help can be beneficial to children. Having an open dialogue with your kids, especially younger children, is an effective way to gauge what and how your child may be feeling.

“With the younger ones, just be honest, as far as ‘does this feel like something we need to get some help with?’ Put it in simple words that your younger child can understand. Maybe compare it to a guidance counselor at school,” Rhodes explained. “Show kids that it’s not a punishment. ‘I’m not taking you to a counselor because you’re bad or that something’s wrong with you.’ You don’t want to cause increased problems with self esteem. You want to encourage them to get some help, just like everybody at some point in their lives needs some help.”

Older children and teens may be less likely to confide in a parent about their problems. If your child is not fully receptive to getting help, be gentle with them. Parents can create a safe and open environment for children to confide in them or another trusted adult when they feel comfortable.

“Sometimes when kids become teenagers, they’re less likely to talk to their parents, so make sure that they’re surrounded with other positive adults— coaches, maybe a youth pastor, a teacher or other parents that you trust. Create a buffer for that child so they have some other trusted adults to go to,” Rhodes suggested.

In terms of professional help and therapy services, there are a wide variety of programs and resources out there that are available to both children and families. Lakeview Center offers both children’s and family services to help children struggling with mental health issues and also support their families.

“We have a wide array of services to meet families where they need help, instead of having to refer families out, it’s pretty fortunate to have a lot of services under one roof, it makes coordination between programs a lot easier,” Rhodes explained. “As far as our services here and our children’s outpatient program, we offer family counseling, individual counseling and group counseling. Some of the different groups we offer are anger management, anxiety, decision making, coping skills, depression. We have a broad range of services that meet new kids’ needs.”

The most important thing that parents should remember when considering their child’s mental health is that you are never alone in supporting your child’s mental health journey; your active participation is crucial to helping your children thrive.

“As a parent, I think it’s always great to have a team. We do a team approach. We want to focus on the parents’ needs and the child’s needs and determine how the therapist can help bridge both those needs. So that way, we’re creating a functional household, not just the functional child,” Rhodes explained.

For more information on Lakeview Center’s services, visit If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.