A mental health advocate can be anyone who helps people struggling with mental health issues. It could be a professional, like a counselor or a psychiatrist. It could also be a person who deeply cares about someone who is dealing with a mental illness, or even a person who has gone through mental illness him- or herself. All types of mental health advocates can help your struggling teenager. Here are some of the various types of mental health advocates, as well as information on how they might be able to help you parent your teenager who is dealing with a mental health condition.
Pediatricians and Family Doctors
Your first line of defense against your teen’s mental illness is the person who has been providing most of your child’s care. This is usually a pediatrician or a family doctor. Ideally, your teen’s primary care physician will have known him or her for several years (or more) so they might have a trusting relationship. If this is not the case, however, don’t worry; doctors who work with teens know how to talk to adolescents about mental health conditions.
Your pediatrician or family doctor can be an advocate for your teen even if your teen does not feel that he or she can talk to you, the parent. Try not to be offended or hurt; this is a delicate stage of life where young people are gradually distancing themselves from mom and dad, and it’s natural and common for adolescents to confide more in their doctors than they do in their parents. Leave your teen alone with the doctor to discuss whatever is bothering your teen.
Mental Health Practitioners
If your adolescent’s doctor suspects that he or she has a mental health condition, the next step will often be to take him or her to a mental health practitioner. Depending on the condition, you might be referred to a counselor, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or someone else. These are specialists in various mental health disorders. Sometimes they work in individual or group practices. Other times, they work in residential treatment centers or hospitals. Regardless of the location of the practitioner, their goal is to work with your teenager so he or she is feeling better and able to cope with his or her mental health condition.
Teachers and Guidance Counselors
People who your teen might confide can include:
- trusted teachers
- guidance counselors
- school social workers
- other adults who are in your child’s school
It might feel disconcerting on your end to know that your teen has sought out mental health advice from a person who you might not even know. Remember, your adolescent might feel more comfortable getting advice from someone who is not as intricately involved in his or her life.
Encourage your teen to confide in other adults about things that they might not feel comfortable telling you. The professionals at your child’s school are trained to work with adolescents who are going through various situations. They will generally keep a teen’s confidence in most situations, but if your teen is a danger to him- or herself or to someone else or if he or she is being abused, then it will be reported to the appropriate people. This might mean that you’ll hear about the situation from someone other than your teen, but you can feel secure in knowing that teachers, school counselors, and others on staff know how to respond to a teen who is having mental health issues.
Others Suffering From Mental Health Conditions
Your teen might find that someone who has gone through treatment for a mental health condition can be one of their strongest mental health advocates. If you have an extended family member or a friend who has dealt with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, an addiction, or some other mental health concern, you could find out if they would be willing to talk to your teen. Even if it’s not the same mental health condition that your teen is struggling with, it can give your teen hope to see that someone else has come out of a mental health crisis.
Another way to find a good advocate who can help your teen is to encourage him or her to attend support group meetings. These differ from group therapy that they might be attending already as prescribed by their counselor. Generally, a support group meeting will include people who are in the recently-diagnosed stage as well as those who are to the point where they can cope with and integrate their condition into their daily lives without much of a problem. In addition, there might also be people who have recovered from their mental illness. These are excellent mental health advocates for your teen to learn from and who can help your teen speak up and get the care he or she needs.
Family and Friends
Finally, family and friends, even those who have not been affected by a mental health condition personally, can be excellent resources for your teen. These are people who love your teenager and who will be likely to want to learn more about the condition and how they might be able to help.
Do use caution when telling others about your teen’s condition. Talk to your teenager first to find out whether it’s okay for you to share the information. It’s possible that your child will not want family members and friends to know. On the other hand, as he or she gets more comfortable with the diagnosis, they might want to tell others on their own. Do not discuss your child’s private medical information with others who might mention it to your teen or treat them differently.
As the parent of a teenager who is struggling with a mental health condition, it’s important to engage in self-care. It can be overwhelming to know that your teen is dealing with something so large, but by looking for mental health advocates who can help support your teen, you will be able to take some time to care for yourself. Schedule some counseling for yourself if you need help coping; this will not only take some of the burden off of your shoulders, but it sets an excellent example of self-care for your child.