Talking about mental illness is one of the most important conversations you’ll have with your teen, especially if you believe they may be impacted by it in the future. The gravity and seriousness of the topic can make approaching it difficult for most parents. Some parents may need some additional help and guidance in order to ensure that they say the right things and touch upon every important piece of information. Are you looking to speak with your teen about the importance of mental health? If so, here’s a brief guide on how to speak with your teen about this difficult topic and steer the conversation in the right direction.
Talk to your teen about potential symptoms.
Navigating school and new social situations can be a stressful experience. Even if teens are feeling fine at the moment, that doesn’t mean that they won’t experience mental health challenges in the future. This is something that may be especially true for children who are at a higher risk of developing a psychiatric disorder due to genetic predisposition. But what exactly should you talk about with your teenager? These are some topics to touch upon.
- Common warning signs to look out for: Knowing how to spot mental health problems can be difficult if you’ve never experienced them in the past. While all young adults may endure emotional distress as they navigate adolescence, mental illness will produce symptoms that suggest more than just sadness. These symptoms may include oversleeping or undersleeping, difficulty functioning or concentrating, changes in appetite, withdrawing from friends and family, changes in thinking and behavior, and severe mood changes. Let your teen know about these symptoms so that they can better assess their own lives and experiences.
- What self-injury looks like: Many teens will engage in self-injurious behavior in order to deal painful emotions, to feel physical pain rather than the numbness that may accompany certain mental illnesses, or even to gain a sense of control in their lives. Some common self-harm behaviors include cutting one’s own body with a sharp object (such as a razor blade), burning oneself, scratching at the skin, opening up wounds, taking too many pills at a time, or even hitting oneself to become injured. If you believe your teen may be engaging in this behavior, let them know that it’s okay to talk about it and that help exists so that they can recover and find healthier ways to cope.
- What they should do if they need help: Although teens may not be quick to ask for it, the first step to recovery is to reach out for help. Let them know that they can reach out to people like you, a trusted adult, or a school counselor to ask for help so that these individuals can enlist the help of a therapist or psychiatrist and begin the therapeutic process.
Being informed about mental illness is something that benefits both parents and teens. Armed with the information above, teens will be better prepared to deal with these issues should they appear in their own lives (or in the lives of close friends and family).
Let them know that you’re always there for them.
It can be difficult to open up to others, especially if you’re experiencing feelings of shame. It’s important that your child feels comfortable while talking about these issues and knows that they can come to you if they have anything to talk about. Even though the topic of mental illness can be shocking or stigmatized (even more so if it hasn’t played a personal role in your life), make sure that your child feels safe discussing their feelings and experiences with you in the event that they do start to feel certain symptoms.
Give them some resources for when they feel overwhelmed.
Many believe that recovery happens solely in the therapist’s office, but dealing with these symptoms requires a great deal of personal work as well. If your child is struggling with difficult emotions, provide them with resources that’ll teach them the healthy coping skills they need to navigate problems in daily life. These healthy habits will help them cultivate better mental health both now and in the future.
Being able to talk about mental illness and understanding what good mental health looks like is crucial for a teen’s development as they navigate life. If you’re a parent looking to discuss this topic with your own child but don’t know where to begin, use the tips above to learn more about how to talk to your teen about mental health.