Being a teenager is hard. It's a unique and formative time filled with lots of social, emotional and physical changes, where we’re striving to fit in and navigate new challenges. We also face certain pressures at home and in school during these years. As a result, many young people are vulnerable to overwhelming feelings of anxiety or depression.
Teenagers are known for being a little dramatic, but you shouldn’t write off changes in their behavior as typical moodiness. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10% to 20% of teens struggle with a mental disorder, yet many remain undiagnosed and untreated. The consequences of failing to address the mental health challenges of adolescents can have a lasting impact that limits their ability to lead fulfilling, balanced lives as adults.
Fortunately, we have an opportunity to help. A recent 2022 poll conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that teens experiencing a mental health problem are looking to their schools and parents for information and guidance. If you’re a parent, teacher or caretaker of a teenager, here’s how you can support their mental wellness.
Both teachers and parents can make it easier for teens to talk about their mental health by normalizing discussions about anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and more. Encouraging open and honest conversations about difficult feelings and how to handle them helps break the stigma surrounding mental illness and lets teens know it’s OK to share when something’s bothering them. It also shows them you’re someone they can turn to for support.
Here are some tips for talking about mental illness.
When talking about mental illness, do your best not to label people as “mad,” “crazy,” or “insane.” This kind of language can be dehumanizing and sends a not-so-subtle message that it’s OK to mock those with mental health problems. You can send a much more positive message by speaking about others’ challenges with kindness, compassion and empathy.
If your teen comes to you for support, advice or guidance, remember to listen to them and validate their concerns. Don’t dismiss their feelings or turn a conversation about mental health into an interrogation. Instead, ask how you can help and let them know that you understand.
You don’t have to wait for an emotional meltdown or crisis to begin the conversation about mental health. It’s always better to start talking about it sooner rather than later so teens know they can speak up about what they’re going through before it becomes a bigger problem.
Educating yourself and teens about mental health can reduce the stigma around the topic and help build more awareness about what signs and symptoms to look for. Additionally, some kids who are struggling might not realize that what they’re experiencing is the result of a medical condition like anxiety or depression, so teaching them about mental health can help them better understand what they’re going through and feel less alone.
Here are some ways you increase education and awareness of mental health.
Learn what resources are out there for mental health support so you can be ready to act. Surround yourself and your teen with a network of friends, family, teachers, doctors and other professionals that can help if they’re struggling with difficult emotions. You can also look into telehealth options like Sokya’s online therapy or groups for additional support.
Learn to recognize the indicators of mental illness in teens and how to differentiate between what’s normal and what’s not. However, don’t hunt for signs with a magnifying glass. If you do notice anything out of character, approach your teen without judgment or shame.
NAMI’s poll found that 4 out of 5 teens surveyed trust the information they get from their teachers about mental health and think schools should play a bigger role in addressing it. Ways this could be accomplished include having educators share information about treatments and increasing access to appropriate mental health resources for students.
Simple acts of compassion and empathy can go a long way in helping teens manage their mental health. Research shows that kindness can create a positive feedback loop that greatly improves our general happiness and well-being. For teens struggling with mental illness, it can also help them feel more comfortable and aid in their recovery.
Here are some ways you can approach mental health with compassion.
Good self-care is essential for mental wellness. For many, this includes taking a mental health day to reset the mind and reduce stress. If you’re a teacher or a parent, it's OK to set clear limits but don’t make teens feel guilty for needing a day off every now and then.
It can be difficult to know if we’re supporting our loved ones or enabling their behavior. If your teen is depressed or anxious, they might find it hard to get out of bed in the morning and complete normal tasks. It’s never easy to see them struggle, but shielding them from the consequences can do more harm than good by enabling unhealthy patterns. Instead, support them in making positive changes, like seeing a therapist.
Sometimes, we find it easier to blame people for their mental health or substance abuse problems, but the reality is that either can affect anyone at any point in life. Remembering that we are all human and therefore susceptible to these concerns can help teachers and parents be more compassionate toward teens who are struggling, even when it's hard.
If you’re a teacher or parent and want to learn more about how you can support teens’ mental health, Sokya can help. We offer online therapy, groups, coaching and more that can help you and your teen learn more about mental illness and take steps to manage it with a complete circle of personalized care. To get started, click here to fill out our online contact form or call (866) 65-SOKYA to connect with a Care Coordinator.