MENTAL HEALTH: 5 warning signs every parent should look out for in their teen

09 October 2018

The teenage years can be a tough time. Parents often unintentionally miss the warning signs that something is wrong with their teenager, as it can be tricky to differentiate normal behaviour from the warning signs of a teen not coping.

Did you know?

  • 75% of mental illness starts before the age of 24
  • 14% of children and teenagers in Australia have a diagnosable mental health problem
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44

Five warning signs parents should look out for:

  1. Your teen stops participating in activities they used to enjoy. This may indicate a sense of worthlessness or hopelessness or a general indication of physical and mental fatigue which can accompany anxiety and depression.

  2. Your teen starts to speak more negatively about themselves, their future and the world around them. Prominent Psychologist Aaron Beck refers to this as the negative triad – a common sign of depression.

  3. Withdrawal from friends and family. This is a form of isolation. A teenager who is struggling may stop participating in family activities and outings with friends because they ‘can’t be bothered’, believe they are ‘not good enough to’ or because such activities evoke too much anxiety.

  4. Their mood changes. Of course, we know that teenagers are naturally prone to ups and downs in their mood. However, a warning sign that your teenager is in trouble is when their mood changes from their ‘normal’ moodiness and you may notice a lower low, higher high, angrier angry and a more fearful fear than usual for them.

  5. A Checklist score of 20 or over. The K10 is a screening tool used by GPs and mental health professionals to determine the likelihood that someone might be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. A score of 20 or over might indicate there is a problem:

    In the past 4 weeks, how often:
    None of the time (1); A little of the time (2); Some (3); Most (4); All of the time (5)
    ¨ Did you feel tired out for no good reason?
    ¨ Did you feel nervous?
    ¨ Did you feel so nervous that nothing could calm you down?
    ¨ Did you feel hopeless?
    ¨ Did you feel restless or fidgety?
    ¨ Did you feel so restless that you could not sit still?
    ¨ Did you feel depressed?
    ¨ Did you feel everything was an effort?
    ¨ Did you feel so sad that nothing could cheer you up?
    ¨ Did you feel worthless?

To help support the mental health of local teens, psychology startup, ‘Speak Teen’ has launched a new service designed to prevent and treat mental illness in young people.

Led by Davina Donovan and supported by the Australian government’s Medicare Better Access Scheme, the teen coaching offering provides virtual or face-to-face access to support for youngsters and their parents in a non-medical setting, enabling families to feel more comfortable and open to seeking help when they need it. 

Identifying that not enough was being done to find a solution to the mental health epidemic, Speak Teen Founder and Psychologist, Davina Donovan says, “We shouldn’t be treating problems like teen anxiety, depression, gaming addiction, bullying, suicide, low self esteem, drug and alcohol abuse or moodiness, when we can take steps to avoid them altogether.”

Davina continues, “Too many families are disconnected and increasing numbers of teenagers are running away from home, dying by suicide and getting caught up in unsafe activities, while parents watch on helplessly. It is our mission at Speak Teen to offer a convenient solution to both teenagers and their parents to access help.  Many teenagers have a soccer coach and netball coach but a ‘teen coach’ is perhaps the most important.”

“Teenagers are telling Speak Teen coaches things that they’re not telling their parents and it’s not secrets about parties or risky behaviour, rather insights about their homes and relationships that many parents are often surprised to hear.”

  • They feel lonely even when around friends and family
  • They feel invisible
  • Don’t feel good enough despite parents saying positive things

“Teens are hypersensitive to criticism. Our coaches listen and validate whereas parents unintentionally make judgements and assumptions.”


Speak Teen offers in-home coaching for Queensland residents in the Gold Coast, Ipswich, Redland Bay, Redcliffe, Sunshine Coast, and Brisbane regions. Virtual coaching is available for families nationwide and internationally.

Sessions are bespoke to the family involved and techniques may include mindfulness, skill-building, resiliency training and self-esteem building. 

Evidence-based techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and interpersonal therapy are also used to help parents and teenagers reconnect and move forward.

More information at

Written by

Kids on the Coast/Kids in the City
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