Mental health issues have a certain social stigma. People might believe that those with mental health conditions can stop their thoughts or behaviors whenever they want. They might think that people with mental illness are more likely to be violent than others, or that they did something to cause their condition.
As the parent of a teenager, it’s important that you are able to overcome any incorrect thoughts you have about mental health so you can pass on the correct information to your child. It’s also important to do what you can to decrease the mental health stigma; as many as one in five teens struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, so your advocacy can help your teen or his or her friends now or in the future.
1. Treat Mental Health Like Physical Health
If you thought that your teen had a lung infection or they had a mole that looked suspicious, you would not hesitate to get him or her to the doctor for an evaluation. It’s important to treat mental health conditions the same way. If you suspect that your teen has anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or any other type of mental health issue, it’s important to make an appointment with their doctor or, if it’s an emergency situation, to head to the emergency room.
The same goes for you and for others:
- Talk about mental health issues the same way you might talk about heart disease or strep throat.
- If you think you have the symptoms, go get checked out.
- If you know someone who is struggling with a mental health condition, don’t treat them or talk about them as though they should be able to “snap out of it.”
If you wouldn’t say that to someone with diabetes or a broken leg, then don’t say it to or about someone with depression, anxiety, or other types of mental health problems.
2. Educate Yourself and Your Teen
Chances are good that your teen knows the symptoms of the flu and knows what to do if they get a cut that is bleeding a lot. The reason they know is that you’ve taught them. Most parents teach their children how to handle minor illnesses and injuries, as well as show them by example when it’s time to seek help.
It’s important to do the same when it comes to mental health issues, whether or not you and your family are currently affected by them. One of the bet ways to help diminish the mental health stigma is to educate yourself and your teen about mental health conditions.
Your teens should know the symptoms of depression and anxiety because these are conditions that are common in teenagers. Knowing the red flags to watch for that might indicate that a friend is suicidal might allow your teen to save someone’s life by getting an adult involved before it’s too late. W
hile they don’t need to become experts on various mental health conditions, they should know that if they are feeling not-quite-right in comparison to how they normally feel, they should let you know. If someone you know is diagnosed with mental illness, let your teen know and encourage him or her to look up the answers to any questions they might have about it.
3. Remember That Words Matter
When you speak about a person who has a mental health condition, remember that the words you use matter. Avoid calling people “crazy” or “insane,” either as a descriptive word or as an insult. Calling a rambunctious child or teen a “maniac” can diminish what someone goes through when they experience manic episodes with bipolar disorder or other types of psychosis. It’s also helpful to avoid referring to yourself as “depressed” when you are simply feeling down or upset about something.
Also, remember to use person-first phrasing: Rather than calling someone “an anxious woman,” put the person first and say “a woman with anxiety.” This can model good habits to your children and teenagers. Also, if your own teen does develop a mental health condition, being in the habit of using person-first phrasing can help them remember that their illness is only part of them and does not define them.
4. Advocate for Mental Health Reform
There is a problem in the United States with people not being able to access mental health care. Sometimes, the problem is that people are simply not diagnosed. Other times, it’s that they can’t afford care and don’t know where they can get free counseling and psychiatric services. They might feel embarrassed and too shy to seek help. Or maybe they don’t want their families or employer to know that they are struggling.
One way that you can help minimize the mental health stigma is to advocate for reform. Ask your representatives to vote for mental health reform. This is not a partisan issue; Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and the Congress have come together to try to get people the help they need. By showing your support, you can be part of the solution.
Seek Help If You Need It
If you are worried that you or your teen has a mental health condition, one of the best ways you can defeat the mental health stigma is by seeking the help that you need. Going to the doctor and requesting a referral to a mental health professional shows your teenager that you are not afraid of the possibility of a mental health condition. Whether it’s you or your child, follow the doctor’s recommendation in terms of going to counseling and considering medications as needed.
Defeating the mental health stigma is not easy. Despite being taught differently, many people will continue to believe untruths about mental health. The fact is, it’s often an uncomfortable topic and it can be difficult to talk about. If you are unsure about how to start a conversation with your teen, don’t be afraid to ask a counselor, your child’s doctor, or even the guidance counselor or social worker at your teen’s school for help. It’s important to have conversations about mental health, so do what you need to do to prepare yourself, even if you don’t feel comfortable.