TEACHING TEENAGERS ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
Make Sure They Have the Coping Mechanisms They Need.
By Megan Bailey
Over the last few generations, opening up about mental health struggles has become more and more accepted. Teens are seeing their favorite stars talk about anxiety, or having friends express the depression they’ve dealt with personally. Without some guidance from you, though, your teen may have some questions on mental health. How does it affect them, and what safeguards can they put in place to stay mentally fit?
What is mental illness?
Mental health is a way of describing social and emotional wellbeing. Your child needs good mental health to develop in a healthy way, build strong relationships, adapt to change and deal with life’s challenges. What you consider mental illness might be defined differently than what a physician would say. For a person to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, physicians generally look for a depressed mood or a lack of interest in hobbies or recreational activities. However, in teens, these signs might show up as changes in their grades, a disinterest in friends, or out-of-character irritability. If at least one of those symptoms is present, additional criteria are assessed. These can include changes in sleep, lack of concentration or task completion, changes in appetite, or thoughts of suicide.
These can sound a bit scary for a teen to deal with. If your teen has occasional episodes of anger or stays out late sometimes, it’s probably not a reason to be worried. On the other hand, if those feelings persist and there are other unusual symptoms, it’s probably a good idea to talk to your doctor.
There are a few different types of mental illness that might show up in your teen. One of the most common mental disorders among young adults in the United States is depression. Adolescent mental health statistics show that the rate is rising even faster among millennials. Furthermore, the rates of major depression in adolescents have increased by 47 percent for boys and 65 percent for girls.
It’s not always easy to tell when typical teen stress crosses over into anxiety in teenagers. However, teens with an anxiety disorder experience particularly high levels of anxiety. Moreover, these feelings get worse over time, rather than improving on their own. Additionally, teens with anxiety disorders struggle with feelings of tension and fear that can interfere with daily activities at work and at school. Furthermore, like other teen mental disorders, teen anxiety affects adolescents’ relationships with peers and family members.
Teen eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any mental disorder, resulting from starvation, metabolic collapse, or suicide. Therefore, it is one of the most dangerous teen mental disorders. Consequently, teen eating disorders produce extreme disturbances in teenage eating behaviors and therefore physical health. But they also affect mental health. Eating disorders almost always co-exist with another mental health issue.
Teens use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate depression, anxiety, trauma, low self-esteem, and other underlying conditions. There is a possibility for substance use disorder if drug use continues to grow. Substance use becomes an unhealthy and dangerous coping mechanism for symptoms of teen mental disorders. Your teen may have a genetic predisposition to addiction or be in an environment where it is encouraged by friends. If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, start by talking with your child.
How can your teen be set up for success?
Your teenage child needs good mental health to develop in a healthy way, build strong relationships and deal with challenges. A strong and loving relationship with you can have a direct and positive impact on your child’s mental health. There are certain steps you can take as a parent to promote good mental health in your home. This includes spending time together as a family, encouraging them to talk about their feelings, dealing with problems when they arise, and showing that you have an interest in your child’s life.
Physical health is also a bit part of mental health. Talk to your child about staying active and physically fit so that they feel the best version of themselves. Teach them to maintain healthy eating habits, get on a regular sleep pattern, and to avoid drugs and alcohol. This will help them keep a focused, clear head.
It’s important that young people feel comfortable and supported to talk about their mental health. Keep communication open, show empathy, and listen and be available to them without being intrusive. Raising sensitive issues with young people can be challenging. Often young people are worried about their parents being upset or angry, so it’s important to stay calm.
There is no perfect way to start a conversation about mental health with a young person. Using ‘I’ statements is a good way to talk about your thoughts and feelings. These can include sentences like: “It seems like you haven’t been yourself lately, how are things?”, “You seem anxious or sad, what is happening for you? We can work it out together” or “I’ve noticed that you seem to have a lot on your mind lately. I’m happy to talk or listen and see if I can help.” These open the door so your teen can begin to think about how they want to talk to you about what they are going through. Do not get upset if they don’t tell you right away, but leave the communication line there so they can when they are ready.
There are many things your teen can do to help promote better mental fitness. This can include writing in a journal, drawing, listening to music, or spending time out in nature. Encourage your child to explore passions for activities that promote time for relaxation, self-expression, or mediation. They will need a healthy outlet to get their pent-up emotions out, which can be done through sports too. If your teen is struggling with their emotions, bringing them to a psychologist for therapy can also be a good next step. Mental health is something that your family should talk about candidly and openly. Keep lines of communication available between you and your teen so that they feel comfortable talking to you in times of crisis. The teenage years come with a lot of changes and difficulty, so make sure your teen’s mental health is set up for success.