Talking to Your Teen About Mental Health

Being a teenager can be very difficult. Your child is dealing with pressures from without (to be liked by their peers, to do well in school, to make challenging decisions) and from within in the form of large-scale physical, mental and emotional changes. While it’s normal for teens to worry about everything they’re dealing with, some teens find themselves feeling extreme sadness, hopelessness or worthlessness. These feelings might mean that there’s a bigger problem at hand.

Mental Illness and Youth

Image Credit: Jez Timms

In 2013, approximately 4.2% of all U.S. adults (10 million) were struggling with a serious mental illness. Based on data collected in 2010, about 13% of children aged eight to 15 had a diagnosable mental disorder during the previous year.

Mental health issues affect many, many people in North America, yet there is still a stigma surrounding these types of problems. In fact, a recent survey showed that participants under-reported mental health conditions 36% of the time (as opposed to conditions such as hypertension and diabetes). Unfortunately, this type of stigma and shame means that many people go without the treatment that they need. It’s important that you, the parent, create an environment where your teen feels completely safe discussing their own mental health.

Start Small

Simply asking your teen how they’re doing or what (if anything) is bothering them on a daily basis is a great way to open the mental health conversation. Teens are often uncommunicative, so it may be up to you to gently push them to talk about their feelings. The conversation doesn’t have to be big and scary; just check in and really listen when your child speaks. The most important thing is to keep the lines of communication open.

Confide in Your Teen

Image Credit: RachelH

Be up front and open with your teen about your own mental health struggles. Don’t burden with your problems, but do let them know that they’re not alone. If anxiety runs in your family, share this information with your teen; they may have feelings that they can’t explain—letting them in the loop might give them some answers. Trust your teen and they’ll trust you.

Be Open, Supportive and Loving

The most important thing you can do for your child is to create a loving environment. Make sure that they know that they’re loved and never judged when it comes to their mental health. Be open when your child tells you they’re struggling (regardless of your own skepticism), receive what they’re saying and respond in a supportive manner. Teens often decide how to feel about themselves based on how their parents react to them.

Mental health problems can be real, severe and painful. Do some research and educate yourself on triggers, warning signs and treatments.

Feature Image: Ben Waardenburg