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How to Talk to Your Teens About Mental Health

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Starting a conversation with adolescents and teens about mental health can be uncomfortable and challenging. 

With conversations that are sensitive and serious, timing is crucial. 

It’s best to avoid pressuring them into talking. Instead, create an environment where they feel comfortable and safe about opening up. 

A good time may be on drives to or from somewhere while doing chores, cooking, or hanging out.

When you initiate the conversation, pay attention to any changes in their willingness to engage with you.

Recognizing any changes in behaviour, such as withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy, difficulty sleeping or eating, or sudden mood swings, are signs of something wrong. 

Don’t push them into talking with you again; the key is to create an environment where they feel safe to open up and be honest about their concerns and worries. 

Instead, ask questions such as;

  • I noticed you don’t seem to be hanging with the same friends as much as usual. Did something happen? 
  • I saw your school grades. Should we schedule a teacher conference and seek some tutoring? 
  • You seem tired. Are you doing too much in your day? 

Be supportive, listen without cutting them off or offering advice, and have an understanding attitude that will help them feel more comfortable opening up and discussing their feelings with you.

Early detection is key

Teenage depression is a severe condition that may have long-term effects on a young person’s life. In some instances, professional help may be recommended. 

Knowing the warning signs is the first step and recognizing them in your teenager is essential because, with early detection, plenty can be done to help your teen.

Depression in teens can look similar or very different from depression in adults. 

Typically, signs of depression can exhibit themselves as mood changes, sadness or irritability, a sense of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, changes in eating habits, withdrawal from friends and activities they used to enjoy, low energy levels, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and thoughts of suicide. 

It’s important to note that these symptoms may vary from person to person and should always be taken seriously. In situations dealing with suicidal teens, you should contact mental health professionals immediately. 

Understanding your teens’ mental health requires diligence on your part, as well as creating an environment open for dialogue. Be honest and listen to them and take these steps in your conversations with your teens; 

  • Be genuine
  • Get comfortable with silence
  • Take your teen seriously
  • Watch for red flags

Red flags to look for include; behavioural changes, changes to sleeping or eating patterns, and reduced interest in everyday activities and hobbies. 

Others to watch out for include; social withdrawal, language about hurting, cutting, or violence toward themselves or others, comments about feeling worthless or hopeless, or making comments about not wanting to be around any longer.

Explaining mental health to your teens

There’s been a stigma associated with mental health issues for too long, though that is slowly changing. 

Often when people think of mental health, they have a negative image or a sense that talking about mental health is a sign of personal weakness, so having a conversation with your teen will help them normalize and open up about their own mental health. 

When talking with your teen about mental health, be genuine. Don’t be abstract or emotional; one way to open the conversation is to share your own stories and explain how mental health issues may show themselves in real life by using real examples.  

Anxiety or panic attacks are common but can be a frightening experience for children, especially if they don’t understand what is happening. 

Explain what a panic attack is and how to minimise them with concrete examples so that they can better understand and cope with their symptoms.

For example, a concrete way to explain panic attacks to your teens is by using the example of a car about to hit them. 

Explain that the fear of being hit by the car stimulates the body’s fight-or-flight response by releasing adrenaline into the body. 

The release of adrenaline causes changes in the body and includes physical reactions such as a racing heart, dizziness, and hyperventilation (breathing too fast). 

A panic attack can include all of these same physical and emotional reactions without an actual threat of danger. 

Talking to your teens about mental health is essential, as many mental illnesses start during adolescence. Teens need to know they can take charge of their well-being, speak up if they notice problems, and support others respectfully. 

As a parent, you want to create an environment where your teen is comfortable to share with you their concerns and worries without judgment so that in times of crisis, they know they have a safe avenue to share with you. 

Doing this will help teens get back on their feet more quickly when problems arise.

Mental health issues can range from mild anxiety or depression to more severe conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. 

If your teen exhibits signs of a mental illness, they need to seek professional help immediately. 

Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.


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