Youth Mental Health: What Parents Need to Know

A sad child sitting with her parents.
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Nearly four in ten parents say they are extremely or very worried that their children might struggle with anxiety or depression, according to the Pew Research Foundation.

Carrie Baker, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with Maumee Bay Pediatrics, has seen a tremendous increase in the number of referrals for mental health over the past ten years. As a parent of a child with anxiety, Baker understands parents’ concerns.  She wants parents to treat anxiety and depression similarly to how they would any other physical issue.

Baker, board certified in pediatric mental health, provides assessment and diagnosis of mental health issues. She then sets children and teens up with counseling, and if they need medication, she can prescribe it as part of the total treatment plan. 

The accelerated rate of mental health diagnosis in young people is twofold according to Baker. More children and teens are being diagnosed and treated for mental health concerns that would have gone untreated in the past. In addition, mental health issues are increasing among young people. 


According to Baker, “There has always been a significantly higher rate of mental health issues in children than what was ever been diagnosed before…there’s this black cloud over mental health. If you have anxiety or depression, then there’s something wrong with you. It’s not a very accepted diagnosis.” 

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For some, the brain doesn’t produce enough of certain neurotransmitters on its own like how some people’s bodies don’t produce enough insulin. Diabetics may be able to manage their condition with diet and exercise as some people with anxiety or depression can be helped with counseling and coping skills. Whether it’s diabetes or mental health, medication may also be needed. 

Pediatric providers aren’t usually screening for mental health, so issues can get overlooked. If kids are having headaches, throwing up, having stomach aches or other somatic complaints and other tests are normal, they may need to a mental health assessment. 

Increase in mental health issues

Baker sees young people being increasingly affected by social changes, especially technology.

“Social media is one of the largest factors for anxiety and depression in kids.” She identifies a few ways that social media adds pressure and stress for kids: 

  • Cyberbullying means that bullying can be both in person and with social media.
  • Embarrassing moments are now posted for anyone to see and become a permanent record. 
  • It’s easy for kids to think that others have bigger social groups, are having more fun, and are more beautiful.
  • Comments can be cruel; it is easier to be critical when not face to face.

Kids also have increased access to information.  As kids are facing more stressful issues and their brains are being taxed, more mental health issues arise. 

Normal teen angst or anxiety or depression?

Normal mood fluctuations can be stressful, but typically children and teens are still productive, active, functioning at school, and participating with friends and activities. The big indicator for anxiety and depression is that mood starts to impact functioning. 

Signs that kids may have a more serious mental health concern:

  • Withdrawing
  • Spending more time in their room 
  • Not seeing friends as much 
  • Over or under eating 
  • Dropping grades 
  • Teachers notice a change 
  • Hygiene declines

Baker recommends making an appointment for a mental health assessment if a parent is concerned about what they are noticing. As many providers do not diagnose or treat pediatric mental health, ask for a referral to someone who does. 

Baker sees that “people are so reluctant to treat the brain, but it’s no different than treating the pancreas. The brain controls everything you think or do. So why would we not want to take care of that organ?”