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How Parents and Caregivers Can Support Young Adult Mental Health

When the CDC recently announced that, with some exceptions, fully vaccinated people in the United States no longer need to socially distance themselves or wear masks indoors, the collective exhale was almost palpable.

John-MacPhee-Jed-Foundation

John MacPhee

Executive Director and CEO, The Jed Foundation

We are all looking forward to a time of “re-emergence”–when rates of vaccination allow for re-opening of all schools, businesses, restaurants, and other spaces where we gather to learn, work, or play. As teens and young adults prepare to go back to school, parents, caregivers and loved ones can implement these tips to support students during this uncertain time:

1. Encourage social connectedness and be ready to notice signs of distress

Family, friends, and peers are well positioned to first notice a distressed teen or young adult and their need to be connected with professional help. It’s more difficult to notice when someone else is experiencing extreme anxiety or distress if they are isolated. Check in with your young adult and encourage them to stay connected to others. Set regular times to talk or have eals together, in person or virtually.If you have an instinct or gut feeling that your teen or young adult may be struggling, ask them if they are OK and let them know you are there to help them.

Learn more about how to have these kinds of conversations at www.seizetheawkward.org and www.sounditouttogether.org.


As we return to school, it is important for us all to continue to focus on our physical, emotional, and mental well-being and to work on strategies for helping ourselves and others build resilience, connectedness, and life skills.


2. Support help-seeking behavior

In times of emotional distress, normally, many students report that they would reach out to school professionals such as counselors, professors and academic advisors, as well as to friends and classmates. Assure young people that they can come to you for support if they are feeling overwhelmed. Try to listen carefully at three levels: the content of what they are saying, the emotions they are feeling, and their behaviors in response to those thoughts and feelings.

3. Provide access to mental health and substance misuse services

We know that transitions can be difficult, so a virtual support system, such as Crisis Text Line or TalkSpace, can be helpful. Parents should be aware of local and school resources if accessible and affordable. Encourage teens and young adults to review their school’s resource web pages/communications and ask for help from their teachers, faculty and school professionals. www.jedfoundation.org also provides information about how to find mental health care. Create spaces and opportunities for youth to process and understand their experience.

Parents and caring adults can assist younger people in understanding and sorting through their experience by creating dedicated time, space, and techniques like journaling, family meetings, culturally-grounded rituals and healing approaches, artistic expression, body movement, and interactive group and/or self-reflective activities to encourage review and integration of their experience. Techniques can be used to help teens and young adults understand and integrate both silver linings and to identify hopes for the future, some of which may have changed as a result of the pandemic year experience.

4. Create spaces and opportunities for youth to process and understand their experience

Parents and caring adults can assist younger people in understanding and sorting through their experience by creating dedicated time, space, and techniques like journaling, family meetings, culturally-grounded rituals and healing approaches, artistic expression, body movement, and interactive group and/or self-reflective activities to encourage review and integration of their experience. Techniques can be used to help teens and young adults understand and integrate both silver linings and to identify hopes for the future–some of which may have changed as a result of the pandemic year experience.


Rethink Ed provides a comprehensive and proactive solution to support districts to promote positive mental health and emotional well-being for their entire community. 


5. Keep the things that worked

Teletherapy, remote learning and work, and new strategies for establishing and maintaining work-home balance are important to continue, even as the pandemic fades. Taking time to assess what worked in families is a worthwhile endeavor.

The uncertainty of knowing when we can resume the things we love to do has understandably taken a toll on the mental health of high school and college students amidst this global pandemic. The good news is that parents, caregivers, friends, and peers can implement these recommendations to provide young adults with the support they need to thrive and succeed.

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