6 Ways to Support Teens and Mental Health (Column Related)
May was Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s over now, but it shouldn’t be. I’m not a medical professional or anything even close, but I am convinced that every person on the planet (no matter age, economic status, profession, race, or gender) is vulnerable to events that can alter their state of mind. If you’re not sure about this, just research the increase in the amount of people seeking psychological help due to the pandemic, then try getting an appointment with a therapist or counselor that doesn’t require weeks or months on a wait list.
There are so many things damaging our mental health that we don’t even realize. Add underlying issues not yet detected and undiagnosed…it’s a bad situation made worse, and the need for support more urgent. Many teens are struggling with mental health issues right now and many of us don’t even know it. How could we? Not too many teens feel comfortable talking to adults about ‘their stuff’ and mental health issues can also be so complex that it’s difficult for adults to know and understand, let alone try to articulate it to someone as a teenager.
For years my three kids have felt comfortable talking to me.
I’m a very understanding and accepting mom. We have a very open relationship;
they know there isn’t anything we can’t discuss (anything). But that
wasn’t enough when it came to my son’s mental health. My teenager struggled the
first three years of high school. He hated school, bad attitude at home, lots
of issues. I’d done everything with him that I did when parenting his two older
sisters…nothing worked! I read books about parenting boys, changed my language
and approach, tried everything. Nothing worked. By junior year, I prayed he’d
enlist in the military, move to his father’s, or just get out. But, at the same
time I loved him and wanted to help him. I was at wit's
end; even willing to let him quit school. He was miserable and not himself. It broke my heart and exhausted me at the same time.
Then, by a stroke of luck, I came across a program with an app to help treat teen depression. We were so desperate, I asked him if he’d be interested in trying it. He agreed. That app was the start of help for us.
Since last spring, he been on a brave journey to find out what makes him tick (or crash) and has had the courage to talk to others about it (most recently he did an interview with CBS Cleveland). The program he participated in, SparkRx, has now made it into doctor’s and counselor’s offices throughout the nation.
Over the last year I have watched him become more of himself again, enroll in a welding program at the local community college, he just finished his senior year (with passing grades he can be proud of) and will graduate high school! He has been able to achieve the things that I knew he could, and he has returned to the boy (and young man) I knew he was destined to be. I cannot discuss this topic without a waterfall of tears.
Seeing him get back on an even keel didn’t just make me happy, it inspired me. Five months ago, at 48, I sought professional help for major focus issues that were practically debilitating. It seemed like out of nowhere, I just couldn’t get out of my own way. Since my ADHD diagnosis in December, I have felt so much better. It’s been a wonderful relief. And if it weren’t for my son, I would not be on the road to success. With our diagnosis we can now give ourselves permission to be who we are, with what we have, because we can understand it, and we aren’t alone. It’s been such a freeing journey that we are now trying to help others by sharing our story and experience.
Teens can feel alone quite often, whether it be in school, with peers or siblings, and especially with their parents. How would anyone else know how they really feel? Imagine walking around like that for years. My son did. How many other kids are? I wish I’d gotten diagnosed decades ago for my issues. My childhood would have been much different and much better. Waiting to address mental health until we are older makes things so much more difficult. It doesn’t have to be that way. Some kids don’t get a chance to get help because they wind up feeling so isolated and alone, fearful and discouraged that they take their own lives. That is not the outcome we want. There are some things that parents can do to become a trusted confidant (a safe place) for their kids. Here are 6 of them:
1. Know your teen’s behaviors and be aware of changes in them or their habits.
2. Don’t be afraid to gently mention to your teen if you notice a change, do a check-in to see how they’re feeling (about anything).
3. Don’t be afraid to ask how you can help.
4. Try to understand all the pressures teens are up against and recognize if/how you play a part in those pressures.
5. Practice telling them that you love them, no matter what…your love is unconditional, and you’ll always be there for them.
6. REPEAT STEPS 1-5 DAILY IF YOU HAVE TO EVEN IF THEY SEEM DISINTERESTED IN TALKING…AT LEAST THEY KNOW YOU’LL BE THERE WHEN THEY ARE. (THIS MIGHT BE THE MOST IMPORTANT.)
Teens fear judgment and are always seeking acceptance (from everyone everywhere) trying to measure up, achieve, and please. We don’t want them to think we do not accept them, or worse judge them or not love them.
I feel very lucky that my son didn’t do half the things he thought about doing…we could have wound up the unlucky ones. We do not know what lies underneath those busy stressed-out teens. Mental health issues are real, and they can affect anyone. SparkRx was the thread that we truly believe was a lifeline for my son…in a time of need, and while we figured things out and then got additional professional help.
If you notice anything odd about your teen, don’t ignore it. Contact your pediatrician, ask for help. I’m not afraid to talk about this, because the cost of being quiet is too high.
Here are some more resources:
My son’s CBS interviews aired on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, the day he graduated from high school.
That night there were multiple reasons to celebrate.