Young people's counselling

Written by Emily Whitton
Emily Whitton
Counselling Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Nora Allali-Carling
Last updated 13th June 2023 | Next update due 12th June 2026

As adolescents, the transition from childhood to adulthood can be daunting. Nowadays, young people can be exposed to pressure, whether that’s at home from family members, or from friends and teachers at school, college, or university. 

Here, we’ll look at how young people might experience poor mental health, whether you’re a young person yourself or a parent, and highlight the support that is available.

What is mental health?

Mental health is what we use to describe our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It can determine how we might feel, think or behave. Some days, you might feel well in yourself and other days you may feel very low.

Poor mental health can be short-term, often if you’re going through a stressful period like exams or loss. It can be long-term or ‘chronic’, or it might come and go. Mental health is different for everybody and it’s unlikely that two people will go through the same experience. It is highly personal and unique to you, so it can feel hard to talk to someone about how you’re feeling and you may worry they won’t understand. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and there is safe, non-judgemental support available. 

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How can it affect young people?

When we think of ‘good’ mental health, we typically mean that you feel positive, content or happy, for example. Poor mental health means the opposite. You might feel very demotivated, sad or angry - sometimes with no obvious cause. 

Poor mental health can be a scary time for anybody who is going through it, but it can be particularly so for young people as they begin to shape their adult lives. Young Minds note that one in three adult mental health problems are directly related to adverse childhood experiences. Therefore, it’s really important that you seek help if you’re struggling. 

In this video, Gestalt therapist Lorna Tredget talks more about mental health problems in young people and how counselling or therapy can help. 

If you are a young person struggling with mental health, it can affect more than just your mood if left bottled up. It might impact your relationships with your friends and you may feel isolated from your family members. If you’re feeling demotivated, you may be reluctant to go to school or have trouble focusing in class, which might make it harder for you to complete exams.

Recognising how you’re feeling is a brave first step to ensure you can receive the necessary support and prevent it from impacting your day-to-day life. Understanding what you might be experiencing can also help you work through your emotions.


What might young people experience?

There are a number of feelings and emotions you might be going through as a young person. You may recognise some of these feelings in yourself or, as a parent, you may have noticed a change in your child’s behaviour. Here, we list some of the most common mental health issues young people might face:

Feeling low in mood 

We all experience periods of sadness in our lives. In fact, it’s a completely natural human emotion and it’s OK to feel upset, hurt, sad or low. It might be a result of stress - perhaps you have exams coming up and are worried about how well you’ll do. You may have lost a pet or someone close to you which can cause feelings of grief. Sometimes, there may be no clear reason why you feel this way, which can be frustrating and hard to understand.

Try to identify what, if anything, is causing your low mood and focus on doing things that bring you happiness. If you’re feeling unable to cope or your low mood persists, it’s really important you reach out to someone, whether that’s your parent, friend or a GP to seek further professional support. 

Loneliness

As we transition into adulthood, it’s not just our bodies that change but our circumstances, too. If you’ve recently moved to a new school or you’re starting college or university, you may experience feelings of isolation - particularly if you don’t know anybody around you, or your friends are meeting new people.

It’s OK to feel lonely and it’s important to remember that loneliness is not the same as being alone. You may be experiencing these feelings despite having a close network of friends around you, and that is understandable when you’re facing a new challenge.

Anxiety 

It is common for young people to be anxious, particularly if they are going through a life change which is unfamiliar and uncertain. This can create feelings of worry, apprehension and separation. It is perfectly normal to feel worried in these circumstances, but if you’re feeling this way all the time, you may be living with anxiety

Self-harm

Self-harming is when you purposely hurt yourself to relieve feelings of distress. Perhaps you’re being bullied, your family is going through a difficult time, or you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or experiencing abuse. You may self-harm if you’re feeling angry, upset or struggling to cope.

People often think of self-harm as cutting the skin, but you may harm yourself in other ways such as over or under-eating or doing things that you know will make you upset. For many people who self-harm, it is often done in secret as a way to release emotions. It can feel like the only way out for some, but if you feel able, try and speak openly and honestly about how you feel - whether that’s to your parents, close friend or even someone you’ve never met, like the Samaritans

If you or your child is in immediate danger, please call 999 or visit A&E. 


What causes mental health problems in young people?

Anyone can experience a mental health issue at any age, but statistics show that as many as 20% of adolescents might experience a problem with their mental health in a given year. There are many reasons for this, with other statistics suggesting the pandemic might be a recent factor. 

  • Trauma can cause mental health problems in young people, such as losing a parent or close family member at a young age or experiencing an illness.
  • Changes in circumstances may also cause mental health problems, such as moving house, school or going away to university. 
  • Hormones can create mood swings and exacerbate mental health issues as teenagers’ bodies change and develop. 

There are also a number of risk factors which might make a young person more likely to develop a mental health problem. These include:

  • having a parent with a long-term illness
  • having a parent who is living with a mental health problem
  • having a disrupted upbringing, such as being in a foster home 
  • having parents who have been in trouble with the law
  • being bullied
  • experiencing abuse (particularly sexual or physical)
  • being a young carer and taking on extra responsibilities 
  • experiencing discrimination (due to race, sexuality, disability or religion, for example)

University stress 

Whilst university can be an incredibly exciting time for many students, it can also bring about feelings of stress. The idea of living away from home (if you choose to do so) and managing finances, thinking about the future and the thought of exams can be overwhelming for many young people. 

It’s important to remember that it’s very normal to feel stressed from time to time. You may be trying to balance academic work with a part-time job and social life. This can feel like a lot to juggle. However, if you’re finding that your stress is constant or you’re struggling to manage it, you may benefit from some extra support:

It’s important to check in with yourself regularly, to see what’s really going on. Talk to someone – a friend, a counsellor or the Samaritans.

Student stress: How you can take control of your anxiety 

What support is available for young people? 

Living with a mental health issue can seem isolating and scary. Thankfully, there is a lot of support available for young people and parents of young people experiencing mental health issues. 

Useful resources

If you’d like to talk to someone confidentially about how you’re feeling, you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or use Young Minds’ chat service, by texting ‘YM’ to 85258. 

Young Minds is the UK’s leading charity supporting young people’s mental health. They have a selection of free resources and support whether you’re a young person, a parent or you work with young people. 

At Counselling Directory, we have a range of resources for a variety of mental health concerns, including articles written by our qualified professionals. 

Reaching out to your GP

If you feel able, you can reach out to your GP or other healthcare professional. They are able to do a mental health referral and follow up with appropriate support, such as local support groups or medication. 

Student welfare

Most schools, colleges and universities will have a student welfare programme in place. You can speak to a member of staff from the welfare board, such as the SENCO or student nurse, or confide in a teacher that you feel comfortable talking to. They can signpost you to the school's mental health services. 

Counselling or therapy 

If you are 18 or under, you can access therapies on the NHS through CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) or CYPMHS (Children and young people’s mental health services). 

If you or a parent is able to pay, you may want to consider private counselling or therapy. Prices will vary between counsellors and the type of therapy that they offer. Some therapists also offer rates for students or those that are unemployed or on a low income.

Make sure you find a therapist best suited to you and your needs by reaching out to a few, to begin with. At Counselling Directory, our members are registered with a professional body, so you can ensure you’re connecting with an experienced and qualified therapist. 

Will my counsellor or therapist tell my parents?

Counselling and/or therapy sessions will always be held in confidentiality. However, as a young person, if your counsellor or therapist thinks you may be in danger or unsafe, they might have to contact your parent or caregiver. They will generally let you know if they’re going to do this. If you are reluctant to tell your parents that you are having therapy but don’t want to go alone, you could consider joining a group session.


Advice for parents of young people 

Being a parent comes with many challenges and it can be especially tough if your child is living with a mental health problem. The first thing to know is that you are not alone. If you suspect your child might be experiencing poor mental health, there are a few things you can do to support them. 

  • Write down your concerns. This will not only help you navigate conversations with your child but will support any discussions you have with a professional.
  • Communicate. Although honesty can seem difficult, it is important to be open with your child about your concerns. Express that you are there for them and provide some comfort and validation of their feelings. See Young Minds’ helpful conversation starters for some top suggestions, regardless of whether you prefer to talk face-to-face, call or text each other.
  • Talk to other parents. Try to chat with other parents to see if there is something that your child and their peers are struggling with collectively and, if appropriate, you may want to organise or join a parent support group. Speaking with other parents may give you an opportunity to seek help from them if they have been in a similar situation.
  • If you are worried about your child, parents are also able to contact the above services, including a GP and CAHMS. Many of these providers will offer advice and support to parents of young people with mental health concerns. Parents can also contact the school’s pastoral team, who are able to support and advise parents and carers. 

For a full list of options available to parents and carers, visit Young Minds

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