There are many issues facing teenagers and their parents today.  Just turn on Oprah or Dr. Phil and you’ll find someone talking about sexting or bullying or body image disorders.  It’s an overwhelming the number and variety of potential challenges that families face.  Therapy is an excellent resource to help address these issues, develop effective coping skills, and improve family relations.  While I am an advocate for therapy as a way to prevent major crisis as well as deal with them, I know that often parents and teens struggle to decide if their problem is “big” enough for therapy.  My answer is always- yes.  Every issue can be helped by having support and learning new relational skills but I also know that’s not always a practical answer.  That said I would like to introduce a series of posts over the next few weeks focused on highlighting issues important to adolescents and their families.  I hope these posts will inform you as well as provide some guidance as you decide whether therapy is right for your situation.  Today, let us start at the begining… what is mental health?

Mental health generally refers to your emotional and psychological well-being.  I find that most of us, whether we admit it or not, think of mental health either being crazy or not.  But the truth is that mental health, just like physical health, is a complex set of many factors.  In general your mental health includes your emotional (or psychological) factors,  social (or relational) factors, and biological factors.  I like to think of it as your bio-psycho-social health.  Obviously each of these factors impacts the others and so we can’t really seperate them into neat little categories but for the purpose of this post we will.  Here’s a brief overview of what each set of factors looks like.  By understanding these categories you can more readily assess your own mental health and decide when and where you may need help.


This area of your mental health is probably the part that you think of first.  It is your mood and your ability to manage your emotions effectively.  Managing your feelings is not the same as stuffing or hiding them.  In fact a healthy emotional state is one in which you feel a wide range of emotions, including anger and sadness, and are able to identify them and act in socially appropriate ways in response to them.  Some issues in your Emotional/Pyschological may be the result of mental health disorders (think of these as an infection of your emotional body, just like strep throat is an infection in  your physical body) such as depression or anxiety.  These are examples of normal feelings that become overwhelming or interfere with your ability to function in day to day life.  Sometimes we experience poor emotional health as a normal response to life circumstances.  For example if your parents divorced, you may feel overwhelmed by anger or sadness.  These feelings don’t necessarily meet the criteria for a mental health disorder but they still need to addressed.  As part of the Emotional component to mental health, your thought process should also be considered.  Obsessive thoughts or negative self-talk can have a significant impact on your day to day functioning and can be addressed through therapy and other measns.


You know how you feel when you are fighting with your best friend or your girlfriend breaks up with you?  That’s a great example of how social or relational factors impact your mental health.  People are social creatures and so our ability to relate to others is a crucial part of what keeps us healthy.  Sometimes the social part of mental health is specific to one relationship in your life, such as getting along with your parents.  But at other times, teenagers can struggle to make new friends or have difficulty maintaining a healthy relationship with peers.  As you move through adolescence and into adulthood, developing and maintaining relationships is an important part of your development.  Learning to establish healthy boundaries, resolve conflict, and maintain your identity within close relationships are all part of keeping yourself mentally healthy.


This is an important component that can easily be overlooked.  Many of the mental health disorders you have heard about have some biological component.  The reason medications can help with things like depression and anxiety is that there is actual neurological components to these diseases.  There is a growing body of research on the brain structure and chemistry found in addiction and trauma patients.  This is exciting information because it validates the biological connection in mental health.  Aside from the fact that many mental health disorders have biological components, it is also important to note the way in which biology affects the other two components we mentioned earlier.  Physical conditions such as obesity or severe asthma can  change how you live you life possibly limiting your physical activity or  your ability to engage with peers. These changes impact your social and emotional experiences.

All three components of mental health are important and interconnected so we can not simply ignore one in favor of another.  The best approach to staying mentally healthy is to address all three components and seek help whenever you aren’t sure how to improve an area that is troubling you.  For more information on specific issues and concerns, stay tuned for our next post.