Discussing mental health and suicide prevention with your teens is essential to keeping them safe and supported. You should be aware of the warning signs associated with mental health issues and the stigma surrounding suicide. Staying connected and strong as a family requires knowing how to talk to your teen about mental health, get your teen help for mental health problems, and respond to warning signs of self-harm and suicide.
In some cases, it may be difficult to discuss the topic of mental health. You might have been taught that mental health issues and suicidal ideation are to be kept hidden, sinful, or just a part of being human. If you’re a parent, discussing mental illness or suicide may strike fear into your heart. But consider this: if your adolescent were physically hurt, you would seek medical attention immediately. In the event that your adolescent displayed symptoms of discomfort, you would likely inquire further. If your adolescent came to you complaining of physical pain, you would encourage them to see a doctor. When dealing with mental illness, you should follow the same protocol.
Maintaining Good Mental Health Begins Early
When should you start talking to your kid about their mental health? Half of all cases of mental illness in a person’s lifetime have their onset by the age of 14, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Therefore, now is the time to broach the topics of mental health and suicide with your adolescent. As soon as possible is ideal. Don’t put off discussing feelings until your child reaches puberty. A mental health crisis can occur in children as young as 12. Normalize talks about feelings and mental health. Discussing a positive emotion like joy or excitement is just as valid as discussing a negative one. Having your children feel like they can confide in you is facilitated by your genuine interest in how they are experiencing various life events. You should also try to avoid giving advice or dismissing feelings. Instead, focus on listening and responding with small, encouraging comments like, “that sounds difficult” or “it sounds like you’re feeling sad.”
As a general rule, children take on their parent’s emotional state. Sharing your feelings and thoughts about current events can be beneficial. If you came from a family where mental health issues were taboo, this might be easier said than done. It takes courage to show your children that you struggle with things like anxiety and depression, but doing so will teach them coping skills that will serve them well both now and in the future.
Teenagers’ Emotional States Often Describe a Rollercoaster
Having meaningful conversations with your tween or teen child can be difficult. Little ones are more open about expressing their emotions, and it’s simpler to read their expressions of anger, sadness, and joy. They might start to withdraw as they enter their adolescent and teenage years. Indeed, this is perfectly natural and beneficial! You may recall your own adolescence as a time of self-discovery. The emotions of teenagers can swing wildly, from elation in the morning to despair by lunchtime. Although they act quickly, this does not mean that they disregard the significance of their emotions or experiences.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Mental Illness
Adolescents’ emotions can swing wildly, making it difficult to decipher their true motivations. Having a firm grasp of the distinctions between symptoms and signs is vital. You can observe the signs: less time spent with loved ones, less interest in things that used to bring them joy, changes in eating habits (either under or overeating), and trouble falling or staying asleep. Symptoms are how a person actually feels, such as despair, sadness, depression, anxiety, or rage. You should consult with them directly to learn about your adolescent’s symptoms.
The duration of the symptoms is the most important indicator. Sometimes, the symptoms of depression or anxiety in your adolescence may appear one day and disappear the next. However, you need to take action if the episodes last longer than usual or if your teen is no longer acting like the person you know. You are your child’s first and most reliable line of defense against any potential harm.
Steps To Take When Having a Conversation With Your Adolescent About Mental Health
First, you should assess how you feel and what you think about mental health before having a conversation with your teen. Concern that your adolescent suffers from mental health problems like anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideation can be terrifying. Maybe you feel like a failure as a parent, but you shouldn’t. Reading this article shows you are concerned about your teen’s mental health. You are the expert on your adolescent; if you suspect they are dealing with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, it’s in their best interest for you to talk to them. What follows is some guidance on how to proceed.
- Take it easy. Although your initial reaction may be to storm into their room and demand, “Just tell me what’s wrong!” try to calm down and collect your thoughts first. Because their brains are still developing, teenagers may not know how to express these feelings or have the words to describe them.
- Decide on a convenient time. You should schedule this conversation when you’re both well-rested, fed, and able to devote as much time as necessary to it.
- Pick a nice location. Turn off the phone, the TV, and the music, and make an effort to make eye contact with one another.
- Advocate for others and lead with compassion. Say “I love you” first. Then, tell them what changes or warning signs you’ve seen:
- “You seem exhausted daily and spend most of your time shut up in your room.”
- “It seems like you’ve stopped communicating with your buddies.”
- Feelings should be checked. Try to keep your feelings in check as your teen is talking. Keep in mind that this whole thing revolves around their internal monologue. They may become more distant if you express anger, frustration, or blame them or others for their feelings. Think back on all the times people said things like, “That sounds difficult,” or “This is a big deal for you, and I see that.”
- Having patience is a virtue. They might be too nervous about approaching you the first time. Not a problem. Be as clear as possible that you are always there for your child, that they can always come to you with questions or help, and that they have your undying love and support even if they are not yet ready to talk. Reassure them that help-seeking, on either side of the family, is never a sign of weakness.
- Send your gratitude their way. If they explain what’s happening, pay attention. Tell them how much you appreciate them sharing that information with you. It takes a lot of courage to open up about how you feel and what you’re going through, whether you’re a teenager or a parent.
- Collectively seek out help. It’s natural for parents to want to shield their children from harm. Although it may be tempting to declare, “I will take care of this,” you would be better served by saying, “Let’s get some assistance.” It’s a great gesture of concern and includes them in finding a solution. Don’t stress about your financial situation; there are tools available for people of all backgrounds and means.
Keep in mind the following pointers:
- Your teenager is entitled to both physical and mental wellbeing.
- You should make it a habit to discuss your emotions with your loved ones.
- Watch for indicators that your adolescent’s psychological wellbeing is deteriorating.
- Maintain your composure as you have this conversation with your adolescent.
- Focus on what they have to say.
- It’s important to keep asking and checking in with your teen regularly.
- Gratitude for their time spent in conversation is greatly appreciated.
- Learn how to work together to get assistance.
- Don’t hesitate to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or 9-1-1 if a teen is in immediate danger or has suicidal thoughts.
- Be prepared to help yourself and others in times of crisis by keeping the phone numbers of local crisis hotlines, suicide prevention hotlines, and mental health services handy.
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