Discussing mental health with your teen can be a difficult topic to bring up since it can be emotional and uncomfortable to talk about. It is much easier to talk about physical health than mental health.
However, if you are worried about your teenager’s mental health, you need to bring it up to them as quickly as possible because these issues need to be addressed and treated early on. In this article, we have put together a few ways that you can talk to your teenager about their mental health.
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If your teenager is struggling with their mental health, they probably feel alone and isolated, like nobody can ever understand their emotional turmoil. When talking to your teen about mental health, help connect them to your own mental health struggles.
For example, if you struggle with depression and are in therapy as a result, talk to your teen about how your depression is affecting you or how your therapy appointment went. If they witness an open and honest dialogue about your mental health, it can be easier for them to come to you about their own mental health struggles.
Mental health conditions should not be a shameful secret like they are often treated to be. If your entire family talks about their mental health conditions the way they would about another medical problem, then your teen might feel even more comfortable talking to you if you approach them with a concern.
You are trying to talk to your teenager about their mental health, and they get quiet. They might be thinking about how to put what they are feeling into words or organizing their thoughts, so instead of pushing, sit in silence until they are ready.
Sitting in silence is hard for many people, but if you do it, then your teen might become more comfortable because they know you are listening to them.
If your teenager asks you something about a mental health condition, whether it is theirs, yours, or just one they have heard about, answer them honestly. It is important that they know they can ask you anything about this stuff and get a true answer. If you are not sure, you can look it up together to find the answers.
Keep in mind that they might ask you some really uncomfortable questions, possibly about self-harm or suicide. It is imperative that you do not shy away from these topics; talk to them honestly about what can lead to a person doing that.
When your teenager talks about their mental health, acknowledge and validate their feelings. Make sure you do not act dismissively, guess what they are saying or feeling, or make excuses. Listen and acknowledge that what they are feeling is real, even if their feelings might not make complete sense to you; after all, teenagers are not always easy to understand.
There might be more going on in your teen’s life than you know about, so validating them and listening can help them get comfortable bringing up these issues.
We have a societal stigma that when someone is suffering from mental health conditions, it is somehow that person’s fault they are going through this. Someone with anxiety might be told to just chill out like they can magically make their anxiety go away.
Someone with depression might be constantly told to smile or cheer up, not understanding that it truly is not that simple. When talking to your teen about their mental health, make sure you tell them this is not their fault.
Help your teen understand that their struggles are not due to some character flaw; they are as much a part of their health as a physical health condition is. Emphasize the strengths of your teen to reinforce that they are not to “blame” for any of this.
If you think there is something going on with your teenager’s mental health, you might be tempted to just sit them down on the couch and have a serious talk about what is going on with them. However, you absolutely should not do that; most teens would instantly feel uncomfortable and possibly attacked, making them freeze up and mutter that nothing is wrong.
Instead, go out to lunch, go shopping, or go out for coffee; make sure they are doing something fun and low-key when you talk to them, and you will get a better reaction from your teen.
Take the time to teach your teenagers about the importance of practicing self-care and prevention. This can include getting enough sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, journaling, “me time,” using an anxiety or panic attack relief app, or even trying meditation. Make sure they understand that self-care is not selfish and try not to make them feel guilty if they need to practice some self-care for their own mental health.