You have a teen in trouble. Whether the challenges are behavioral, emotional, or with substances, your child is in jeopardy and needs help.

It is not uncommon for parents to feel discomfort, embarrassment, or shame when having a child who needs counseling or professional treatment. Natural enough, we want our kids to be “normal,” to fit in and belong, and have the best and happiest life possible. But are we doing a disservice to our teen if we allow societal judgment, real or perceived, to deny the adolescent the help needed?

The Stigma for the Teen

Teen-dom is a minefield of peer pressure, conformity, and the struggle to connect and belong. Therefore, it is no surprise that a recent Rand study lists social stigma and negative reactions from family members as the No. 1 reason teens do not seek help for depression. Troubled people don’t want to be troubled — they want to be normal, and so it’s a big step for a teenager to admit that help is needed.

Furthermore, teenagers are inherently reliant on others, primarily their parents. They have little if any, economic independence, do not determine their own schedule, or their own transportation. So, in addition to working up the courage to ask for help, there may be an underlying fear that their request will be judged or dismissed.

Parents and caregivers need to be aware of the stigma and try to hear what our child is trying to tell us. As much as possible, attempt to be receptive- listen to what is being said, and work with the teen to determine what is needed to overcome these challenges. In the scary place of depression, anxiety, or addiction, it is our job to guide and support the child on the path to healing and recovery.

The Stigma for the Parent

What have I done wrong? This may be the first, or nearly the first thought that runs through a parent’s head when the person hears that his/her child is in trouble- followed by a bevy of second-guessing, self-reproach, and regrets. All completely understandable, but what then?

Wrangling those emotions may be difficult, but necessary.  Now is the time to provide love and support to your teen and shelve personal fears of judgment or blame. That does not mean you have to shout from the rooftops that your kid needs help — obviously, some discretion and tact are called for — but it is vital your teenager knows there is nothing to be ashamed of.  Your own attitude will model for her the healthiest possible outlook for the journey ahead.

Fortunately, some of the stigmas regarding mental health and substance abuse has lessened in recent years. There is more public awareness regarding treatment then there was a generation ago. But there is still a long way to go. A stigma can only hurt if it is allowed to remain in place. If we work as a team- parents, treatment providers, family members, and friends to remove the obstacles, healing can truly take place.