How can I help my teen with their mental health

Are you worried about your teens mental health?

Do you find yourself asking them what’s going on, how their day was, letting them know that they can tell you anything and get NOTHING in return?

Maybe they say ‘I’m fine!” when you know they’re not. Do you find yourself saying things like ‘’Just tell me what’s wrong? ‘’, or ‘I just want to know how your day was?!’

Maybe you have a gut feeling something is wrong, but you’re not sure if what your teen’s going through is normal or if requires help. When you ask, you don’t get a response that feels helpful. Maybe you ignore it for a bit, but your gut is telling you something is not quite right. 

Maybe you’re afraid to ask again or scared to say the wrong thing.

I have worked with hundreds of teens and one thing I’ve observed is they often can’t explain what they’re feeling and what’s happening to them. It’s normal as a teen to pull away a bit from family, to try and seek some autonomy and independence. But this doesn’t mean they DON’T need you, they often require a different approach. As parents move from ‘Manager’ to ‘Consultant’, there can be a few bumps in the road and steep learning curves. 

It can be hard to talk about it and ask for help when they don’t fully understand what they are experiencing. They can feel a sense of hopelessness, confusion or even denial. One in four young people will experience a mental illness this year. Thats huge. We can all play a role in supporting them. 

Some are really struggling and don’t ask for help. When they finally come and see me, I ask them why it took them so long to ask for help I hear things like.

  • I didn’t want to be in any trouble
  • I didn’t want to be a burden
  • My parents already have a lot on their plate
  • I can handle this on my own
  • If I get help does it mean there is something wrong with me? 
  • I’m scared, I’m nervous about it all
  • I don’t know what’s happening to me

This is where parents can be vital in helping their teens understand what’s going on and when it requires some extra support from a professional.

What do you do? What can you say? Are you scared to get it wrong or say the wrong thing?

I have yet to work with a single parent who didn’t genuinely want what’s best for their kids.  They all want to be good parents and give their kids everything they can. When it comes to mental health this can feel scary, and overwhelming and can be filled with stigma, misinformation, shame, fear and judgment. 

Firstly I would recommend checking in on your own anxiety. When you’re asking lots of questions and trying to get to the bottom of something it may feel overwhelming for them. Manage your emotions and keep in mind it takes a calm brain to calm a brain. If you’re heightened, stressed or anxious it’s hard to offer calm to them.

Talk about your observations and label the emotion. I can see you look anxious. I wonder if you’re worried right now? Allow them space to think about it. Don’t mistake their silence for disinterestedness.

Things you may notice that could be signs they’re not ok. 

If you notice some of the things below they may need more support or the support of a mental health professional

  • They spend more time at home
  • They prefer being alone a lot
  • Would rather socialise with their parents instead of their friends ( yep for teens this one could be a red flag, sorry parents) 
  • Avoiding school
  • Having lots of unexplained physical pains/ sick/ headaches/ stomach aches
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Eating less than usual
  • Being grumpy or irritable
  • Being short-tempered
  • Fighting with friends
  • Arguing more with siblings
  • Finding it hard to be motivated
  • Being really quite
  • Over-focused on getting good grades
  • Doing lots of extra homework 

Let’s say you’ve noticed some of these things, it may be time to talk to them about seeing a school counsellor, going to their GP or accessing mental health support. Having your teen seek mental health counselling doesn’t make you a bad parent and it doesn’t mean they don’t trust you or can’t talk to you. even therapists can’t offer therapy to their own kids. As professionals, we have skills the help people and take out personal relationships. At The Therapy Hub, we will include parents in sessions when possible so you are included and can’t find the best ways to support your teen and the whole family. 

There are so many things parents can do that can make a big difference. One way to get started is to attend a Youth Mental Health First Aid Course or try my new Connected Teens Course 

 

Marie Vakakis

Accredited Mental Health Social Worker and Family Therapist

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