Mental health is a phrase we are hearing more and more about these days. COVID-19 took its toll on families and the economy by forcing them into confined spaces for lockdown and costing millions of people their jobs and their incomes. Therefore, it is no wonder that concerns over teen mental health are also growing. They too are feeling the pinch of being shut off from their friends and being in and out of school, on top of all the usual concerns and hormones that they already have to cope with. There are things we as parents can do to support and improve teen mental health. Let’s explore.
Ways You Can Support Teen Mental Health
Tune In: Identify symptoms
The first sign of mental health issues is a tired-looking teenager. Lethargy is an indication of tiredness but also of disinterest and demotivation. The next sign of a mental illness is drooping shoulders and negative body language. Other common mental health symptoms may include mood swings, feeling tearful, and a loss of appetite. Make no mistake, this applies equally to girls and boys.
Another symptom, although less obvious is anxiety. Anxiety can manifest in a number of ways, from fidgeting to isolating. It may also be the case that anger and disappointment are also welling up inside. Remember that symptoms are not the problem, but rather a manifestation of a problem. Slowly, gently and, most importantly, indirectly, we need to find out what the problems are. Teenagers are uncommunicative with their parents at the best of times so don’t expect an answer to your question of “what’s wrong?”
Use indirect communication
Indirect communication deflates perceived bossiness and instructions. Both bossiness and instructions lead to the formation of barriers and communication shutting down. The best way to approach a teenager is by asking indirect questions. For example, instead of saying “Do you want coffee?” try “Would you like one of my special cups of coffee that I make for special people?” Or, ‘Would you mind helping me with the trash?” is better than “Take out the trash please.” Politeness, subtlety, and intrigue are tactics to motivate people if used sincerely. However, be wary of being obviously manipulative. The goal is inclusion, not more distancing and isolation.
Talk about yourself
In quieter moments alone, open up to your teen about how you are feeling and about your own anxiety. Talking to them while you are driving is a good idea. This way they don’t feel the need to make eye contact and will make the conversation feel more casual until they open up. Doing so may encourage them to trust you and to open up about the way they are feeling. If you aren’t feeling anxious, talk about someone else who is. “I’m worried about my friend at work…” Third-party stories divert the immediacy of pressure. You might also add that they are feeling lonely as well. When they talk about themselves, don’t ask questions. Instead, mental health professionals suggest listening without interrupting and jumping in with solutions.
Sense of purpose
Teenagers are at their best when they are doing something they love, or when they are on a mission. We all need a sense of purpose. A sense of purpose helps us to feel like we fit in, are needed, and appreciated. Ask your teenager to help you with a mission you are embarking on. This may interrupt the lethargy and start the positive chemicals flowing in the brain. In some cases, this might even lead them to come up with a mission of their own. Use the power of suggestion to help them get started. Distracting them with small chores may also help. Without being overbearing and overprotective, suggest some enjoyable things you would like to do with them. This can help to pierce the isolation bubble. However, remember we can only lead the horse to water.
Patience and perseverance are the best you can offer teenagers. If they could ask, that is probably what they would ask of you. It’s called being there for them.
Additional Reading: Adolescent and School Health – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
SAGE Counseling Omaha
At SAGE Counseling Omaha, our primary focus is on helping you to get the support and treatment that you need as you move forward. We all experience challenges that are often too difficult to work through on our own, and we are here to support you during these tough times.
When you connect with our compassionate counseling team, you can rest assured that you will receive the individualized care that you need. Contact us today. For approved clients, we are able to utilize telehealth services through our HIPAA-compliant virtual software.