Mental Health and Shame: How to Help Your Teen

Living with a mental illness is challenging. You might be unsure of who you are, how you feel or why you think certain things. Your relationships with your friends and family might also change and even your day to day schedule might look different. If you’re a parent of a teen living with a mental illness, these realities are likely true for them as well. Unfortunately, shame is also a burden that teens living with mental illness often carry. Here are some ways you can help and support your teen so that they feel less shame.

1. Their Feelings Are Not Inconvenient

Teens with a diagnosed mental health condition might believe that their feelings—particularly their negative ones—are inconvenient to those around them. Help them know this isn’t the case by encouraging your teen to express their emotions and let them know that this sharing is positive because it helps to create a sense of understanding. Avoid overreacting when your teen shares and instead choose to calmly work towards positive coping strategies with them.

2. They Are Not Their Diagnosis

While a mental health diagnosis can drastically affect someone’s life, it is important that your teen recognizes that they are not their diagnosis doesn’t define them. Encourage those around you to be cautious with labels and separate the diagnosis from the person. Practically speaking, this means saying a person “lives with schizophrenia” instead of saying “they are schizophrenic.” This can empower your teen to feel like they have more control over their diagnosis and a potential to grow and cope.


Image Beth Phillips

3. They Can Grow, Change and Adapt

Knowing that they have the ability to grow, change and adapt is extremely important for your teen to combat their sense of shame. If your teen needs support at school, help them to speak with their teachers about possible adaptations. Encourage your teen to speak with a therapist about coping strategies for positive day-to-day living with their mental health condition. Assist them in setting realistic, tangible goals so that they can observe their progress and celebrate milestones. Above all else, help them to know that it’s okay to make mistakes (everyone does) and this does not mean they lack the ability to recover and move forward.

4. They Are Accepted

At the end of the day, help your teen to know that they are accepted as they are, diagnosis and all. Encourage your teen to surround themselves with positive family members, friends and mentors. Help them to ignore the stories they tell themselves about their “otherness” or “weirdness” and instead support them in seeing their gifts, strengths and value.

Although living with a mental illness is difficult, following these tips will help your teen to feel more secure, comfortable and less shame.

Featured image Beth Phillips