an overview on mental health

If a young person develops a mental health problem it is important that they get help early.

Raising sensitive issues and working to resolve problems that arise along the way can be challenging. It can often be hard as a parent to know the difference between normal behaviour, such as occasional moodiness and irritability, and an emerging mental health problem.

If a young person develops a mental health problem it is important that they get help early. The information here is designed to help you better understand mental health and what you can do to support young people who might be going through a tough time.

Mental health and mental health problems in young people

Mental health is about being able to work and study to your full potential, cope with day-to-day life stresses, be involved in your community, and live your life in a free and satisfying way. A young person who has good mental health has good emotional and social wellbeing and the capacity to cope with change and challenges.

Feeling down, tense, angry, anxious or moody are all normal emotions for young people, but when these feelings persist for long periods of time, or if they begin to interfere with their daily life, they may be part of a mental health problem. Mental health problems can affect their feelings, thoughts and actions, and can affect their ability to function in their everyday activities, whether at school, at work, or in relationships.

If you feel you know a young person whose mental health is getting in the way of their daily life, it is important to let them know you are there to support them.

Most parents can tell when something is out of the ordinary, but there are also signs that suggest a young person might be experiencing a mental health problem.

These are new, noticeable and persistent changes in the young person, lasting at least a few weeks, including:

  • Not enjoying, or not wanting to be involved in things that they would normally enjoy

  • Changes in appetite or sleeping patterns

  • Being easily irritated or angry for no reason

  • Finding that their performance at school, TAFE, university or work is not as good as it should be or as it once was

  • Involving themselves in risky behaviour that they would usually avoid, like taking drugs or drinking too much alcohol

  • Issues with their concentration

  • Seeming unusually stressed, worried, down or crying for no reason

  • Expressing negative, distressing, bizarre or unusual thoughts

What affects a young person's mental health?

There is no one "cause" for mental health concerns. Instead, it seems that a number of overlapping factors may increase the risk of developing a mental health problem. These can include:

  • Biological factors - family history of mental health problems

  • Adverse early life experiences - including abuse, neglect, death or a significant loss or trauma

  • Individual psychological factors - including self-esteem, coping skills or thinking style

  • Current circumstances - for example, stress from work or school, money problems or difficult person relationships

  • Serious illness or physical injury

  • Drug and alcohol use and experimentation

headspace tips for talking to a young person

It"s important that young people feel comfortable and supported to talk about their mental health. Here are some things you can do to encourage this:

  • Talk openly and honestly, let them know what you are concerned about and ask what they need from you. They might not know what they need so be prepared to make suggestions – and have them dismissed

  • Encourage them to talk and listen, be patient and hear their fears and concerns

  • Do things with them. Sometimes they might say more if you"re driving somewhere or doing something together

  • If they are distressed, don"t tell them to 'just calm down' or ‘get over it" - they need to be taken seriously

  • Avoid judgment and reassure them that you will be there for them

  • Let them know if they don"t want to talk to you, they could talk to other trusted adults, and there"s help available

  • Support them in seeking information, looking for help and/or talking to a health professional, at eheadspace or a headspace centre

  • Encourage a regular routine (i.e. getting up in the morning, eating three meals a day) try to ensure they are not regularly up late or sleeping in very late the next day

  • Involve them in decisions and give them responsibility at home (i.e. deciding what to eat for dinner and help prepare it)

  • Ask them how they are and acknowledge any achievements and efforts they make

  • Support them to keep in contact with peers


Encourage them to get involved in activities or projects and join in when you can (e.g. paint the walls in their bedroom)

headspace centres

There is a national network of 100+ headspace centres across metropolitan, regional and rural areas of Australia. Each centre delivers support to young people and their family and friends in four key areas: mental health, general health, drug and alcohol and work and study support.

The look and feel of headspace centres is designed to create an environment that young people feel comfortable to access. All services are free or low cost, confidential and youth friendly.

A range of workers are available at centres, including General Practitioners, psychiatrists, mental health workers (psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, nurses) and other workers (youth workers, alcohol and other drug workers, vocational workers) who have specific expertise working with young people.

 Find your nearest headspace centre


eheadspace is a national online and telephone support service staffed by a range of experienced youth and mental health professionals. eheadspace supports young people who aren't able to access a headspace centre or would prefer to get help for their problems via online chat, email or phone.

eheadspace can also assist families and friends in supporting a young person they are worried about.

Get professional support