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The Mental Health Toll on Parents and Teens

July 12, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a call to action to support youth mental health, but the emotional wellness of parents and caregivers has often been overlooked.

A new report released this week highlights the ways anxiety and depression affect teens and their caregivers, and the mental health connections between the two groups. The report includes two nationwide surveys revealing that parents are suffering from rates of anxiety and depression at similar rates as teens.

"It would be just as right to sound the alarm about parents' mental health as about teens' mental health,” the report notes.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • By the numbers:  In two national surveys late last year, researchers found 18 percent of teens reported suffering anxiety; about 20 percent of mothers and 15 percent of fathers also reported anxiety.
    • For depression, 15 percent of teens reported depression, while 16 percent of mothers and 10 percent of fathers did, as well.
  • Parental concerns:  A third of teens reported having at least one parent reporting anxiety or depression, and nearly 40 percent were at least “somewhat worried” about the mental health of at least one parent.
  • The value of listening:  About 40 percent of teens reported that they wanted their parents to “reach out more to ask how [they’re] really doing and to really listen.”
    • “We need to provide parents with guidance on specific empathic listening skills that can help them become important sounding boards and advisors to their teens,” the report said.
  • Action steps:  The report includes five prevention strategies related to listening to teens; guiding parents in supporting teens' mental health; promoting parents' mental health; guiding parents in talking about their own mental health struggles; and helping teens cultivate meaning.
  • Quotable:  “There is no single cause of teens’ mental health troubles―there are many interacting causes that vary by race, culture, economic class, and dozens of other factors―and there is no single solution,” the report notes. “But we argue that one crucial way to prevent a wide range of teen mental health troubles is to strengthen parents’ mental health―to care for the caregivers―and to better prepare them to support their teens.”

The report was conducted by Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education that helps parents, educators, and communities raise children who are concerned about others and the common good, and who are committed to justice.

The report is available to review online.