If you ask an average adult what their worst mental health years were, they would probably tell you it was when they were young teenagers. Young people, in general, deal with a lot. They are growing and maturing, which comes with awkward feelings and loneliness. Teens are subjected to intense peer pressure and often are forced to make decisions before their brains are even fully grown. Young people are forced into social situations where they may be the victims of bullying.
To make things more complicated, several types of mental health disorders can develop during these times. Especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which put many teenagers in isolation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 37% of high school students have said that they experienced problems with their mental health during 2021.
This is why it’s so important to talk with the young people in your life about mental health. These are people that are expected to be adults in a few short years but are not being prepared to care for their mental health by learning healthy coping skills. Here are some ways you can talk to the young people in your life to help them develop the skills they need to succeed.
Treat Young People With Respect
The first thing you must remember is to respect the person you are talking to. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t legally an adult yet. You have no right to talk down to or invalidate the feelings they have. When speaking to them, you need to be prepared to listen to them as well.
Reassure them that what they feel and experience is real. They aren’t “crazy” for feeling how they feel, and you are a safe person to come to. Many times our youth fall to mental health disorders because their problems fester for so long. They don’t trust adults to share their private feelings with, and so they attempt to soothe them by themselves, sometimes to disastrous results.
This is why you should be someone they can trust. Don’t be judgmental of them when they are simply asking for help and advice. Be the person you wish you had when you had an embarrassing issue to talk about. Do this, and you will always be a pillar they can lean on when times are tough.
Bring Awareness of Mental Health Issues in an Age Appropriate Way
A young teenager is not going to be able to sit through or understand dry scientific literature. They need someone to explain things in a way they can understand without treating them like they are stupid. The best way to do this is to explain concepts simply with plenty of room to ask questions.
For example, don’t just say that abusing substances is bad and leave it at that. Instead, explain that sometimes feelings are hard to deal with, and people may develop a substance use disorder (SUD) to deal with them. There are better and more healthy ways to deal with feelings, and having feelings isn’t a bad thing. Encourage them to speak with someone they love and trust should they feel so bad that they are tempted to self-medicate. Always reassure them that they won’t be judged for asking for help from you or a mental health professional.
Remember to always leave a feeling of hope behind. It’s easy to make small problems into big ones when you are young, and having a tether of hope to keep you from flying off into a hurricane of negative emotions is important.
Ask What They Already Know About Mental Health and Go From There
One of the best ways to broach the topic of mental health is to simply ask what someone already knows.
In terms of young people and mental health, a big topic to bring up is depression. Depression is very common among teenagers, especially students, as they have a lot to deal with and not many ways to alleviate it. Ask them what they know about depression and explain it to you. Once they do so, you can help fill in any gaps they miss or correct any misinformation they may think is a fact.
If they don’t know anything about a certain subject, offer to help them learn about it. Don’t just lecture them. You need to engage with someone to make them an active participant in the conversation. If you just talk to them, they are less likely to retain any information that you tell them. You could also watch a movie or listen to a song with them and ask them questions about how they think the characters in them feel. Use this as a springboard to educate them on various kinds of mental health disorders to make them more aware of their existence. Remember, you aren’t here to scare them. Instead, educate them.
You can also teach them how to look up factual information on their own and how to tell if it is from a credited source. Remind them that you are always there to answer any questions they may have and be available for them to do so.
Don’t Push Too Hard
It may be tempting to smother a young person in advice, but this isn’t something you should do. You need to give young people space to breathe and make their own choices.
If you feel as though a young person you know may benefit from therapy, by all means, bring it up to them. Never force them to go to therapy. Therapy is only effective when the patient wants to make an active change and recognizes that they need help. Instead, teach them that it’s always okay to ask for help and that therapy is a valid option when they feel bad.
Being a teenager is difficult. You are going through so many changes that you feel like a different person when you look in the mirror. Sometimes adults will even dismiss how you feel or accuse you of faking your feelings. We believe you. We know what you are going through and want to help. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we make it our goal to treat everyone with respect and kindness. It doesn’t matter how old you are. What you are feeling is real, and you deserve to get the help that you want. If you or someone you love are struggling with a mental health disorder, call (949) 647-4090 today.