In 2017, it’s a shame that there’s still a stigma surrounding mental health conditions. While society has come far in accepting mental health differences, we still have a long way to go. One way to promote the importance of mental health awareness and treatment is to focus on the young people of today. If today’s teens and young adults feel comfortable discussing and getting treatment for mental health conditions, they will pass this attitude onto subsequent generations. As the parent of a teenager, it’s important to empower your adolescent to eliminate the stigma and to promote mental health awareness. Here are some tips on how to do just that.
Talk to Your Teen About Mental Health
Whether you are concerned about your own teen’s mental health or you just want to start a conversation about this important topic, knowing how to begin is helpful. As you probably already know, coming at your teen in a way that they find disrespectful, such as when you assume that they don’t know anything about the topic, is likely to result in a dead end. You also want to avoid approaching your teen at the wrong time, such as when you’re rushing around trying to get other things accomplished.
Instead, set aside some time when your teen isn’t busy. Respect his or her other obligations by asking when a good time would be. Once you’ve found a time that works for both you and your teen, consider these tips:
- Ask questions about your child’s feelings and thoughts.
- Be sure to listen at least as much as you talk; listening more is usually better.
- Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know,” and be willing to research the answers to any questions your teen has.
- Do not minimize what they are thinking or feeling.
- Don’t catastrophize a benign or mild situation. If you are worried, express this in a respectful way.
Treat Mental Health Conditions Like Physical Illnesses
The way people talk about mental health conditions can contribute to the stigma. For example, using words such as “crazy” or “insane” is not helpful.
Another common mistake is to treat people with mental health disorders as though they are choosing to be sick. For example, sometimes people with depression are told, “If you would just think more positively, you wouldn’t be depressed,” or “Maybe you just need to get outside more.”
Instead, try to frame mental illness the same way you would frame physical illness.
If you wouldn’t tell someone with cancer that they should just try meditating to cure their illness, don’t tell someone with bipolar disorder the same thing. If you don’t blame your neighbor for developing kidney disease, then it’s inappropriate to blame someone for developing social anxiety.
Your teens are watching the way you relate to others, so set a good example by refusing to participate in the societal stigma that surrounds mental illness.
Educate Yourself on Mental Health Conditions
Another step you can take to help promote mental health awareness and eliminate the stigma of mental health conditions is to educate yourself on the issues.
Many people don’t have a great understanding of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addictions, or other common mental health conditions. There are many myths about mental health that go around and if you are not educated on the correct information, you’re likely to believe the myths.
For example, one myth is that people with a mental illness are often violent. However, the truth is that people with mental illness are no more likely than anyone else to become violet.
By doing some research and educating yourself on the truths of mental health conditions, you can help reduce the stigma.
Help Your Teen Find Ways to Promote Mental Health Awareness
If your teen is affected by a mental health condition, you can help them advocate for their needs. Go with them to speak to the school officials who can put an IEP or 504 plan in place, if needed. Consider other options if their current school is not a good fit for their needs. They should know that they can speak to their doctors about anything that that most of the time (with just a couple of exceptions), there is confidentiality.
If your teen knows someone who is struggling with a mental illness, encourage them to be a good friend. They can do this by:
- educating themselves on the issue
- encouraging their friends to also be mental health advocates
- being aware of the signs and symptoms of suicidal thinking
- telling an adult if the suspect that their friend might be considering suicide
Since teens with OCD, anxiety, and depression are more at risk of suicide than most other teenagers, this is something to watch for.
Encourage Your Teen to Seek Treatment
If you suspect that your teenager is dealing with a mental health condition, it might be difficult to convince them to seek treatment. While it’s easy enough to force a young child to see any type of doctor they need, it’s not as simple to make a teen see a doctor or a counselor. Try talking to your teen about the ways in which counseling could help them.
Ask if they’d see their primary care physician; if they are comfortable with their pediatrician or family doctor, that can be the first place you take your teen. Sometimes a trusted doctor can convince a teenager to do what’s in their best interest. Also, the doctor can run some tests to be sure that their symptoms are not being caused by a physical condition.
Once you do get your teen in to see a therapist, it’s important to let your child know that you’re open to changing things that aren’t working. If your teen doesn’t “click” with the counselor, they could switch to someone else. If they begin seeing benefits but then don’t seem to improve any longer, be open to switching to a different type of therapy if needed. Allowing and encouraging your teen to advocate for him- or herself is a great way to empower them to promote mental health treatment now and in the future.
With approximately 20 percent of young people dealing with mental health conditions, it’s important that you help your teen and his or her friends by reducing the stigma of mental illness. Talk to your adolescent about his or her views on the topic and help them feel empowered to promote mental health awareness.