How can I encourage teens to seek help?

Teenager talking to adult

Teenager talking to adult

Young people are often unaware of the range of support services available to them and may have limited contact with people like you who can help them find out.

By providing information, referral and collaboration with other services you can facilitate their access to help through a broad range of services.

Read below about:


As you read through this information, remember that just providing information may sometimes not be enough. Young people may have limited internet or phone access at home and it may be challenging to find a private space to make a phone call or to access and read information.

Parents and teens may have also had difficult experiences in the past when their requests for help were rejected or the service offered was not a good fit for them and their family. Ensure that young people meet eligibility requirements of any services you refer them to in order to avoid disappointment.

Ideas to encourage help-seeking:

  • Have conversations to learn about your client’s child and support their parenting as part of their recovery.
  • Help parents learn how they can support their child’s own help-seeking ability (see the list below.)
  • Take a family approach in your work with parents who have a mental illness. This may mean spending time with family members other than your client or with the parent’s permission including their children or the whole family at some appointments.
  • Talk to children of parents you are working with and asking how you can help them as well.
  • Support parents and their teenager to develop a Care Plan setting out how the young person can seek help and who they should contact if their parent is unwell.
  • Be aware that some children of parents with a mental illness have emerging mental health problems of their own and will benefit from accessing child or youth mental health services. You can help to facilitate their access to these services.
  • Include information in your promotional material and placing posters or leaflets in your waiting area to inform young people you want to include them as well.
  • Create a welcoming and private space where young people that visit your service with their parents can access information online or by phone.
  • Have a range of printed resources available that teens can take home and read in private. COPMI has online resources and fact sheets that teens can take home or that parents can share with their teen.
  • Recognise that making an initial phone call can be hard for a young person. Ask the young person’s permission to forward their details to services that can support them. You may need to prompt them several times before they are ready to take the next step in accepting help.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Only encourage and offer help when you know that help will be available. Be aware of eligibility requirements before you refer young people to other services so you don’t set them up for disappointment.
  • Be aware that cost, location, restricted opening hours, eligibility requirements, culture, literacy, and stigma can all be barriers to help-seeking. Work to make your service as inclusive as possible.

What kind of help can I offer?

  • Information about mental illness 

Young people often find it hard to access appropriate information about their parent’s illness. They may have concerns about whether they will inherit the illness, whether they are to blame for their parent’s behaviour or want to know more about how to help their parent. In some cases young people may not realise their parent has a mental illness and may create their own explanations if they are not provided with appropriate and correct information.

  • Someone to talk to 

Some teenagers find that the best support comes from family and friends and may not wish to accept professional help. Others may benefit from discussing ways to build resilience and coping strategies with a counsellor, psychologist or with their school counsellor. Some young people may also have their own emerging mental health issues that need to be addressed.

  • Social or educational peer activities

Young people who have a parent with a mental illness have told us that they value the chance to socialise and talk in a safe environment with other young people who have similar family situations. The realisation that they are not alone can reduce stigma and shame and encourage further help-seeking. The COPMI website features a list of organisations that provide this type of support –

  • Practical assistance with household tasks

When their parent is unwell young people may take on a much greater share of household tasks than is typical for adolescents. Carers organisations, local councils and community mental health organisations may be able to ease this burden with practical assistance and respite.

  • Information about Centrelink and other benefits 

There are a range of social and financial supports that may be available to young people, especially those who have a role in caring for their parent.

  • Preventative interventions

Interventions for parents, children and families can be effective at preventing mental health problems in children and supporting individual and family recovery. COPMI offers several free online training courses that can assist professionals in this work.

Questions to ask

Young people tell us that one of the barriers to recognising that they need help is that their sense of ‘normal’ is often skewed by their life experiences. It is hard to identify that you can use some support when you are just doing what you’ve always done. Gentle, open questions that explore their situation can help prompt an awareness of the need to get help.

“It was such a relief when the doctor asked about me too not just about Mum.” Cassie, age 13

Try asking:

  • What’s it like for you when your Mum (or Dad) is unwell?

  • Can you describe your typical week when he is unwell?

  • What do you do for your siblings or parent when you’re at home?

  • What kind of chores do you do when he/she is well and when they are unwell?

  • Would you like to spend some time talking with me next time I see your Mum?

  • What could I do that would support you at home?

  • Would you like me to make an appointment for you?

Mum and teen

Supporting parents to support their child

Parents who have a mental illness value their role as parents and want to be good parents. Many say that their children are a source of hope and inspiration for recovery. Sometimes parents find it difficult to think about their child needing help because of their illness, however they also told us that getting help for their child can be a positive step in their recovery.

Knowing that their child is being well supported can help parents feel better about themselves and their illness and ensure that the whole family deals with things together. You can talk with parents about how you can work together to support their teen. Help them to learn the signs that a teenager may need to seek support, which behaviours could flag emerging mental health issues and what to do about it.

When parents are reluctant to help

Sometimes parents don’t want to involve their child in their treatment or encourage their engagement with services. Other parents may want their child to access counselling or other supports but the young person may be reluctant.

Withdrawal or avoidance and social isolation are commonly associated with mental illness and can result in a reluctance by people with mental illness to seek help (known as ‘help negation’). This can mean that those who most need help often don’t seek it out. Help negation in a parent with a mental illness can extend to discouraging help-seeking by their
child as well as themselves.

Research shows that parents who model active and appropriate help-seeking have an encouraging impact on their child’s willingness to seek help.4

Let parents know there are many ways they can encourage help-seeking including:

  • Providing access at home to online information about mental illness, or giving their child age-appropriate printed information, e.g:
  • Discussing with their teen how they themselves feel about seeking help and how they overcame any reluctance of their own to locating it.
  • Using positive terms to describe their own help-seeking as a strong and courageous action that helped them to build confidence s okay if they need help as well.
  • Creating opportunities for their child to talk with trusted friends or family. Talking together about which family members or friends can be relied on for non-judgemental support and confidentiality.
  • Offering to make an appointment for their teenager to talk with a professional such as a counsellor or psychologist. Making time to go with them if they would accept. Being aware they may need gentle prompting before they are ready to take this step in getting help.
  • Encouraging young people who are resistant to accepting help to talk about their concerns and explore solutions. Talking about previous negative experiences together and acknowledging that they may need to be persistent to find a service that is a good fit.
  • Recognising that accepting professional help can feel intimidating, especially if a young person isn’t exactly sure what happens at an appointment with a counsellor, psychiatrist or other health professional. Describing their experiences or inviting their child to attend some of their own appointments with them to reduce fear of the unknown.
  • Finding out whether the professionals who work with them can take a family approach by working together with parents and children to support recovery or helping the family to develop a Care Plan.
  • Being open and honest about parental mental illness.
  • Acknowledging the stigma often attached to mental illness. Inviting their teen to talk about any stigma they have encountered.
  • Letting their teenager’s school know more about their illness and how the school can support them if they are unwell.
  • Preparing a Care Plan that sets out what should happen if Mum or Dad become unwell. This can be done together with their child when the parent is well so that everyone knows exactly what to do and who to call.
  • Emphasising that if their child feels scared or alone they can call the Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. If they are in danger or it is an emergency they should call 000 straight away.

Parental mental illness in Aboriginal or Culturally And Linguistically Diverse (CALD) families

African mum and kids

Parents from Aboriginal or CALD backgrounds may have differing expectations and understandings of what their children should know about their illness and who should be involved in supporting them and their families.

Their concepts of mental illness and family may differ significantly from your own cultural understandings, making it challenging to start conversations about parenting or to provide appropriate information and support. Being aware of your own cultural biases is a good start – you can build your own understanding and access fact sheets in other languages by visiting:


>Back to top

4. Logan, D.E. & King, C.A., 2001, Parental facilitation of adolescent mental health service utilization: a conceptual and empirical review, Clinical Psychology, Vol 8, pp 319-333.