When You’re Struggling: A Mental Health Support Letter to Teens

This mental health support letter was written by Mary Vanderholm, an associate clinical mental health counselor at Sunrise, a residential treatment center in Utah.

Dear Teen,

Life can be hard, but it isn’t supposed to be miserable. If you have a bad day, that’s one thing. But if your bad days are happening more often than good ones and overwhelming your ability to cope, that’s not OK. You’re not OK.

When life is overwhelming, difficult emotions often come with shaming thoughts of “I’m not enough. I shouldn’t be struggling with this. I should be able to do better. No one cares.” It’s hard not to spiral into these thoughts until you’re just marinating in your misery. It can feel so dark and lonely when you’re in that kind of place.

If this describes in any way what you’re going through, I want to provide some support by sharing a few thoughts for you to keep in mind during these tough times. I’ve picked up these insights through both my practice as a mental health therapist as well as my own journey of cultivating mental wellness.

Your Emotions Are Valid

The first thing I want you to keep in mind is that whatever you’re feeling, those emotions are valid.

It doesn’t matter how or why or when, emotions are valid. You’re allowed to feel your feelings. You don’t have to hide or change them or pretend they aren’t there. It’s normal, and even healthy at times, to feel depressed, in despair, annoyed, anxious, hopeless, insecure, bitter, powerless, and anything else. Emotions aren’t good or bad. There isn’t a line that divides emotions that are healthy and unhealthy. They’re just a means of communicating to ourselves and others how we’re experiencing our environment in that moment, and sometimes what we’re experiencing is intensely painful.

So remember, emotions are valid.

How You Act On Emotions May Not Be Valid

My second thought ties to the first. While your emotions are valid, it doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’re doing as a result of those emotions is valid.

It’s never OK to hurt yourself or others. If you’re doing this, please stop and reach out to a trusted teacher, mentor, parent, aunt, etc., and ask for help. You can also contact the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for immediate support by calling, texting, or chatting 988.

Keep in mind that while emotions are valid internal experiences that we can learn to embrace, they don’t necessarily reflect the truth or facts about the environment, just how we’re responding to it.

For example, have you ever asked a friend to hang out, and then it took forever for them to respond, or they responded with just a super short, “Can’t right now.” In that moment, you may have felt devasted, rejected, or that you must’ve done something to upset them. However, this may not have been the reality of the situation. They may have been busy or were having a bad day, and it had nothing to do with you.

Emotions You Experience Are Not Permanent

The third thing to keep in mind is the emotions you’re feeling are not permanent. This is particularly true for those experiencing depression or anxiety.

So, it might seem like the way you’re feeling will last forever. It might feel like you’re past the point of being able to come back. It might feel like you’ve ruined any chance of having a life worth living. But that’s not true.

Time is the undefeated champion of change. You can get through this. You can feel better. You can feel love and acceptance of who you are, even the parts that have flaws.

Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

My fourth thought is stop being so hard on yourself!

You’re doing the best you can right now, and that’s OK. Maybe you did better yesterday, but sometimes, your best will look like getting out of bed and brushing your hair, and that’s all you accomplished that day. And that’s OK.

Your best will look different depending on the month, the day, and even the hour or minute. It’s like that for everybody, especially when you’re dealing with mental health challenges, and beating yourself up won’t change a thing — except you’ll feel crappier about yourself on top of everything else. Shame has never led to healthy change, and it never will.

Instead, develop self-compassion and empathy for yourself. Become a soft place to land when you’re hurting so badly.

Take Care of Yourself

My fifth thing for you to keep in mind is to take care of yourself, and that means taking action.

You can’t do nothing and expect to feel different. It’s important to pay attention to your diet, exercise, sleep habits, routine, mindfulness, etc. We all need to work on those things to keep ourselves resilient and boost our mental health. The research is clear that these small but powerful actions can have immediate benefits.

While you may often hear about activities like going shopping, eating chocolate, and taking long baths as the preferred forms of self-care, getting to bed early, going for a run, and eating a balanced diet are just as important. Take care of yourself in the ways that you not only want but need.

Teens hike after reading mental health support letter
When You’re Struggling: A Mental Health Support Letter to Teens 2

Remember: You’re Not Alone

I have one final thought to share with you. But first, I want to tell you a brief story.

I was meeting with a client for one of our last sessions before she transitioned out of therapy, and I asked her what she would say to someone who was struggling with their mental health but didn’t know how to ask for support. This client was 15, and before she came to therapy, her life was a deep, dark well of suicidal ideation, substance abuse, self-harm, depression, anxiety, and shame.

After overcoming all that, when asked that question, she said, “I would advise them to find somebody in their life who they trust to confide in. I would ask what’s coming up that’s stopping them from confiding in someone. I would tell them that it makes sense you’re nervous or feeling shame about speaking up but that there are people who care about you and want to hear what you have to say.”

This is my final thought that I want you to remember: You don’t have to be alone in this. You aren’t alone. Sharing what you’re going through is scary, and it’s vulnerable, and I can’t promise it will be easy. It might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. But there is help, and there is support, and there are people who will fight for and with you. You just need to reach out. You can do it!

*This article is for informational purposes only and not to be considered medical advice. If you’re having a mental health emergency, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for immediate support by calling, texting, or chatting 988. You can also text HOME to 741741 -the Crisis Text Line- from anywhere in the country to talk with a trained crisis counselor.

Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help your family needs. If you’re looking for support, contact us today!

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Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of outpatient centers and residential programs offering premier mental health treatment for preteens, teens, and young adults. Dedicated to its big mission of reversing the trends of teen and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark offers a robust continuum of care with different levels of service and programming; has a deep legacy of over 25 years serving youths; works with families to adjust treatment in real time to improve results; treats the entire family using an evidence-supported approach; and offers the highest levels of quality care and safety standards. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including virtual services, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), therapeutic day treatment programs, also known as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), residential treatment, and outdoor therapy, visit embarkbh.com.