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What to Do When Your Teen Opens Up About Mental Health Challenges

Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

If your teen has opened up to you about their mental health challenges, know first that this a good sign. This most likely means that they trust you with their innermost workings and know that you are a safe person to turn to. However, the next step may not be clear for parents — especially those who may not be familiar with mental illness.

According to Penn Medicine, some of the most common mental illnesses in teens are social phobias, anxiety, and depression. In fact, 11.7 percent of adolescents met criteria for experiencing a depressive episode, a 2017 Children’s Mental Health Report by the Child Mind Institute showed. The same report found high school students are nearly twice as likely to experience anxiety symptoms when compared to young people in the 1980s.

It is not a rare occurrence for your child to be struggling with their mental health. It is important for both you and your child to know that you are not alone in your experiences! The next step should always be seeking help from professionals. In addition to speaking to a mental health professional in person, there are many support groups, online communities, and even apps that assist parents who are navigating their child’s mental illness.

Once you have a plan in place for your child, here are four steps that you can take to help you and your child create a space in which they feel comfortable being honest and getting the help they need:

1.  First, simply listen to your teen.

If your teen opened up to you, that means that they probably trust you. Do not make them question that trust by downplaying their experiences. Show them that you believe in their strength and abilities.

2.  Look for activities that your teen enjoys that connect them with their community.

This will look different for every child. Do they love art? playing games? or hiking? Look for social clubs that they can join in which they can meet others. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many online clubs have popped up to safely connect with others. Consider volunteer work as an option as well. Volunteering is not only beneficial to the larger community, it has been shown to be beneficial for mental health. Plus, unlike some clubs and classes, volunteering is free.

3. Help teens make a safety plan.

In a safety plan, teens outline ways in which they know they can make themselves feel better, people they can contact during an episode, and list the numbers of professionals to reach out to in one place.

4. Participate in activities to boost mental health as a family.

Practices such as getting into nature, creating an open dialogue about feelings and experiences, and exercising all boost mental health. When you incorporate these activities into your family culture you can strengthen your relationships while building mental health.

The sad reality is that most teens will never open up to their parents about their mental health struggles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 80% of teens experiencing mental distress do not confide in their parents. These tips can, and should, be used by all guardians!

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A version of this story originally appeared

Photo credit: fizkes/Getty Images

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