The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) engages the American public and encourages each of us to think more about mental health throughout the year. NAMI is dedicated to bringing awareness to the issue of mental health and providing help and resources for those affected by a mental illness. Although mental health is important for anyone of any age, one group is often overlooked. Young Americans are at risk for developing mental illnesses, but we do not always give attention to this fact. If you have a teenage daughter or son, the resources at NAMI provide a great opportunity for you to start a discussion and learn more about mental illness in teens.
Talking about mental health is not always easy. Having a mental illness and experiencing symptoms of a mental illness still carry stigmas. Your teen may not be comfortable admitting to having feelings of anxiety, depression or stress. As difficult as it may be to talk about, bringing up mental health is important because it affects more people than you may realize. One-fifth of teens experience a severe mental health disorder every year.
Half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14, three-quarters by age 24. Even more cope with milder cases. Most of those young people struggle with a mood disorder like depression or anxiety, and most are not receiving any care.
Ideas To Make A Difference In The Mental Health Of Your Children
So what can you do to make a difference for your children? Here are some ideas:
- Start with education – If your teen is reticent to talk about her feelings with you, begin with a more generalized approach to mental health. Learning more about mental illnesses can be a powerful way to introduce your child to the concept without trying to force her to reveal her own experiences. Consider using books or movies that highlight characters with mental illnesses as an introduction. From there you can learn more facts about mental health disorders. NAMI has information to get you started.
- Talk about stress – As you begin to get into more personal discussions with your teen, start with stress. While feelings of depression, sadness, nervousness or anxiety carry certain stigmas, stress is a feeling that is more relatable and safe. Everyone feels stress at certain times, and it is a little less scary to talk about. Discuss with your teen how you cope with stress and ask her to open up about aspects of her life that sometimes make her feel overwhelmed.
- Invite open conversation – Now that you have the ball rolling, make sure your teen understands that you are there to listen, no matter what the topic. The more you engage in conversation, the easier it will be for her to open up and share with you. To engage her trust make sure that you have a two way street. Share some of your feelings, and if you have struggled with mental illness in the past, open up about it.
- Spend time together – Talking about mental health during one specific week of the year is a great idea, but it is not the only way to help prevent or cope with mental illness. When you spend more time with your child, you have a better chance of spotting changes in her behavior. It also gives you a great chance to model strategies for good mental health. Be active together for stress relief by going for walks or jogs or by playing games. Try new hobbies or activities together or get involved in school activities.
No Teen Is Exempt From Mental Illness – Don’t Ignore It
Mental illness in teens is a real concern. With 20 percent of teens suffering from serious depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders and other issues, it is important to be aware that your teen is not necessarily exempt. It may be tough to accept that your child could be vulnerable, but ignoring the issue will only do her a disservice. Together, the two of you can learn and become more aware of mental health. This will only strengthen your relationship and prepare your child to cope if she ever does struggle with a mental illness.