As always, articles such as this one are provided for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for medical advice. If you or your child has any health concerns, please see an appropriately qualified professional.
Today, Thursday 2 March, is World Teen Mental Wellness Day. According to experts, we are facing a teen mental health crisis, with rates of depression, anxiety, and other difficulties soaring. Emergency room visits for mental health-related issues, such as anxiety and self harm, have also risen steeply in the last few years.
World Teen Mental Wellness Day is designed to raise awareness of the mental health challenges that teenagers can face and promote better mental wellness. But as a parent or guardian, it can be hard to know what to do if your teenage child is struggling with their mental health. Read on to learn about a few of the things you can do to help and support them.
Destigmatize Mental Health
Unfortunately, talking about mental health difficulties can still be seen as a taboo. This makes people, especially young people, more likely to suffer in silence and less likely to seek help.
Destigmatizing mental health begins at home. You can build a safe, supportive environment by talking openly and in a non-judgemental manner. Ask your teen about their day and how they are feeling, offer understanding and validation for the things they share with you, and remind them that you are there for them no matter what.
Your teen will also notice how you speak about mental health more broadly. Do not use disparaging language (such as calling people with mental illnesses “crazy”), and do not minimize struggles (such as telling your teen they have “nothing to be depressed about” or suggesting that people with mental health challenges need to simply “pull themselves together”.)
Pay Attention to Changes in Behavior
No matter how strong your relationship is, your teen may not feel able to tell you if they are struggling with their mental health. This could be because they feel ashamed, or simply because they do not want to worry you. So it’s very important to pay attention to their behavior as well as their words.
Have they become more withdrawn, moody, or aggressive? Are they spending more time alone in their room than usual? Are they hiding things from you or evading you when you ask them questions? Are they acting out at home, getting into trouble at school, or do you suspect they are engaging in dangerous or illegal behaviors (such as drugs, underage drinking, or risky sex?) Suddenly hiding their body more than usual, such as wearing long sleeves in the summer or avoiding swimwear on vacation, can also be a warning sign for possible self harm.
None of these things necessarily point to a mental health difficulty, and there may be other explanations, but they all at least warrant your concern and a closer look.
Spend Time Together
As your teenager gets older, they may want to spend less time with you and the rest of the family and more time with their peers and friends. This is normal and not a cause for concern. However, it’s also important to keep making time to spend with them one-to-one.
This builds a stronger relationship, fosters trust so that they can open up to you if anything is wrong, and allows you to notice changes in their behavior more easily. Close and loving family relationships can also help teens to build resilience and deal with any mental health challenges they do encounter more effectively.
Try doing an activity, such as going for a walk, having a movie night, or cooking a meal together at least once per week.
Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle
Living a healthy lifestyle supports good mental wellness as well as physical health. Encourage your teen to live a healthy lifestyle by providing plenty of healthy and nourishing food, teaching them what a balanced diet looks like, and helping them to find a way of moving their body regularly that is accessible and enjoyable.
You can also model good self-care behaviors by eating healthily, exercising regularly, limiting screen time, spending time with people and on activities that make you feel good, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, and getting plenty of sleep.
Seek Out Professional Support
No matter how loving and attentive you are as a parent, you are most likely not a trained mental health professional. If your teenager is having mental health difficulties, there’s no shame in seeking professional support. In fact, it can be the best thing you can do for them.
If your teenager discloses mental health struggles to you, offer to find them a doctor, counselor or therapist to talk to. In most cases you should not force them to go, but giving them the option without blame or stigma can encourage them to get the help they need.