Mental health is a sensitive topic, regardless of your age. However, with teens, being seen as different because of a mental illness can feel like life or death. Since appearance and social status are so important among teens, disclosing that you have a mental illness is a big deal. In fact, for some teens, it might mean the loss of friends, possible bullying, or rejection by certain classmates. For these reasons and more, teens might keep symptoms of mental illness to themselves. They may be afraid of talking about it. Or they might even tell themselves that nothing is wrong and minimize the problems they’re having.
As parents, you can encourage your teen to talk about their mental health with you. They don’t have to talk about it with their friends. But you can encourage them that they are safe when talking with you. Or you might also encourage them to talk to an adult they trust about any concerns they might have. Of course, when teens keep their challenges of mental illness to themselves, they put themselves at risk of danger. They might feel suicidal and not saying anything until it’s too late. They might experience the symptoms of bipolar and struggle with the ups and downs of their mood swings. By talking about it, with you or another adult they trust, there is more opportunity for support, stability, and serenity.
Furthermore, when teens talk about mental illness, they also help break the stigma. The discomfort of discussing mental illness contributes to the fear and judgment of it. In fact, adolescents are avoiding mental illness to the point where a significant number of them do not receive the help they need. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 teens have a mental health condition while only half of the teens who need help are getting it. It’s clear that stigma is playing a role in whether a teen reaches out for assistance.
Fortunately, more and more celebrities and other well known people are being open and honest about their experiences. This alone can help encourage teens to be more forthcoming about their experiences. Also, as people can continue to talk about their mental illnesses, the stigma of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, addiction, and obsessive compulsive disorder will decrease. In fact, parents can talk to their teens about stigma and judgment with regard to mental illness as a means of encouraging them to talk. Parents might also take a look at NAMI’s Say It Out Loud toolkit. The toolkit includes what you may need to have a healthy discussion about mental illness with your teen.
The toolkit includes:
- A presentation to learn mental health conditions in adolescents and young adults.
- A discussion guide that may be used to navigate a conversation with your teen. It also includes questions that can help get a conversation started.
- A short video which includes 10 common warning signs as well as three teens who share their own experiences of mental illness.
- Information about how to find a local NAMI community for additional support.
As you can imagine encouraging your teen to talk about mental illness, not only supports his or her own well being, it also reduces stigma and facilitates an open relationship with their parents.