Conversations with your teen about mental health can be a tricky topic.
Because of the stigma associated with mental health issues, only mentioning this topic may make your teenager feel shameful or defensive.
Don’t let that stop you.
Although many social and physical factors may put them at risk of mental health problems, ordinary teenagers know very little about taking care of their mental health.
The National League for Mental Illness reports that one in five teenagers has a mental illness and less than half of them have the support they need. Although emotional problems are common among teenagers, they may also suffer from diet, personality, substance abuse, and psychological problems.
By talking to your teen about their mental health, you can help them identify challenges and increase their likelihood of getting the help they need. For teenagers who are struggling mentally or emotionally, your conversation may encourage them to lend a helping hand.
Based on the opinions of many mental health experts, here are some suggestions on how to talk to teenagers about the importance of mental health.
7 practical tips on how to talk about mental health with teenagers
Find the right time and place
This is the key. When discussing mental health with teenagers, it is best to give yourself plenty of time and possibly some activities. If you are doing something that does not require direct eye contact, they may feel more comfortable. Activities such as baking or throwing balls can help reduce stress.
Link mental health with physical health
By explaining that it is similar to physical health, and that people of all ages need to be aware of and take care of their mental health, to help eliminate mental health stigma.
Point out the importance of mental health to stress, make yourself feel good and succeed in life, and explain the benefits of mental health. You may also mention that mental health varies by situation or season of life, and you may need them to seek help at different times. If a mental health problem is confirmed, please let them know that there is nothing to be ashamed of, and there are a variety of treatments available to help them resolve the situation.
Bad days happened
Your teen may not know the difference between a more serious mental problem and just having a bad day or week. Help them understand that it is completely normal to feel frustrated, stressed or anxious about conflict, disappointment, loss or other frustrating situations. Let them know that this feeling should be consistent with the situation and should be resolved as the situation improves.
Warning signs of mental health problems
Let your teen pay attention to the warning signs of mental health issues (listed below). Even if there is one of these signs, it may indicate that they need to speak out and reach out to an adult they trust; whether it is you, a doctor, a caregiver, a consultant, a teacher, or another trusted relative or family friend. Remind them that asking for help is a sign of strength, not of strength.
10 common warning signs of adolescent mental health
- Feeling sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
- Seriously try to hurt or kill yourself or make a plan to do so
- Seriously out of control risky behavior
- Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason
- Do not eat, vomit or use laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or gain
- See, hear or believe in untrue things
- Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
- Drastic changes in mood, behavior, personality, or sleep habits
- Extremely difficult to concentrate or stay still
- Strong worries or fears that hinder daily activities
Highlight the dangers of stereotypes
Remind your teenagers that mental problems are not always shown truthfully or respectfully in social media, movies/TV or even the news. As with any health struggle or disability, people with mental problems should be treated with dignity and respect. Mental problems are not moral failures.
Talking to your teen about mental health issues may help them open up and share. Experts almost universally agree that the best thing you can do is to simply listen to your teenager. Don’t give advice. Don’t judge and don’t compare, eliminate or minimize their feelings.
Likewise, it is important not to react emotionally. If there is a moment of silence, it doesn’t matter. This will encourage your teen to keep talking. Say something like “tell me more”. Be curious.
Ask, “How can I help you now?” Experts remind parents that teenagers know a lot about themselves. Parents think they are arrogant to know more. When you listen, they may feel relieved and become less lonely.
Discuss brain health habits
Don’t forget to talk about brain care. After all, good mental health is a by-product of brain health!
Discuss with your teenager many things that can help their brain health, such as:
- Protect the brain from harm
- Get enough sleep (approximately 7 to 9 hours per night)
- Participate in brain health exercises
- Eat healthy foods for the brain
- Drink more water
- Spend time relaxing and entertaining
- Take brain supplements
The capabilities you model for teenagers are far more powerful than the capabilities you tell them. Maintain a healthy brain lifestyle and take care of your physical and mental health so that mental health is the top priority of the whole family!
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This “How to Talk about Mental Health with Teens” first appeared on the BrainMD Health blog.