How to Support Your Adolescent’s Mental Health
Being a mother comes with a never ending stream of worries from the moment your child is born. You are faced with decisions about every single aspect of the child’s life and each one is taken so seriously. Should get your child circumcised? Should you vaccinate your child? How soon should you allow your newborn to be around other people? A fierce mom will leave no stone unturned and no question unanswered. I was my pediatrician’s worst nightmare…a mom with just enough knowledge of children and health care to be a pain in his butt. He finally came up with a list of the things that I SHOULD actually consult him for and a list of the things that were nothing to worry about. That did not stop me from continuing in my pursuit of knowledge on every single health related issue concerning my children…and I still called him pretty often.
So why is it that when we, as parents,are worrying and wondering about the overall health of our children, we do not consider that part of their health includes their mental health? We have no problem asking doctors, family members and fellow moms about which medicine is best for a cough but we would not dare ask which medicine is best for anxiety or depression for our child. This is a stigma that needs to stop. There is nothing shameful about wanting to make sure that your child or teen is healthy in every single way. Being open minded and willing to accept that every child is different and has different needs is the key to keeping them healthy. The only way to make this change in society is to keep talking about it and educating others.
Consider this – most moms will agree that it is really hard for kids who feel like they don’t fit in. Kids want to have the same kinds of clothes, the same phones, the same social media accounts as their friends and you are hard pressed to convince them that they will absolutely survive if they do not have the most recent iPhone. Imagine how a child might feel if they did not fit in because they felt isolated or alienated by their feelings. Something they have no control over can make them feel bad every single day. Parents cannot just buy something to make them feel better. But parents CAN take the time to talk to their kids and make sure that they know anything they feel is o.k. and that if talking to mom or dad is not helping then there are other options.
No matter how much kids claim that they do not care what parents think or that they feel their parents could never understand, they really do care and knowing that mom and dad support them no matter what happens is key. There are many different kinds of anxiety and they are all valid and need to be acknowledged. Some different types include panic attacks, phobias, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and separation anxiety disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 31.9% of adolescents have some type of anxiety disorder. It would be narrow minded for any parent to see that statistic and assume that their child could not possibly be one of this percentage.
If a child struggles with their feelings, it does not mean there is anything “wrong” with them. That is the first thing to remember. And this is something you need to stress to your child. They are not “crazy” or “psycho”. The more you explain to them that it is not shameful and can be treated, the more secure they will feel. You hear people say “I’m depressed” just because they are having a bad day. Often it is an exaggeration but sometimes it is a very real daily feeling. People often suffer from short bouts of depression or anxiety and children and teens are no different. It may be short lived and talking it out will help but if the problems persist, that is o.k. too as long as parents are willing to help. Never judge what you hear from your child, no matter how much it may worry you. Listen and then if you are not sure what to do, ask someone. You can talk to your pediatrician, other parents or even go online to find support. Your child may need to speak to a professional counselor and after a few sessions, they will feel more confident in how to handle their stress and anxiety and then they can stop going on a regular basis. But be prepared for a longer haul in case that is necessary. And, again, it is OK!
There is nothing at all wrong with needing someone to talk to, whether it is a few times or even over several years. And remember, the fact that your child may do better with talking to a professional rather than you is not a failure on your part. No matter how close you are with your children, there are times when they might rather speak to someone with no investment in the issues. A sympathetic stranger can be easier to talk to than a mom or dad.
Parents sometimes react to what they hear with a soothing word, try to come up with a quick fix or even get emotional when they hear their child’s fears or anxieties. This is a perfectly natural reaction but may not be best for the child. In this case, a professional counselor is the way to go. A professional may speak to your child alone or with your entire family, however is most comfortable for everyone. If you do speak as a family, be sure to listen and not interject too much of your opinion unless you are asked. This is harder than it seems. Moms are used to being in charge where their kids are concerned and leaving the talking up to others is not so easy. You need to make sure that you do not take over the session and allow your child to open up in their own time or you can sabotage the process.
Sometimes talking is not enough and medication may need to be considered. There is also no shame in this option. If your child suffered from some kind of disease and taking a pill would help them get through it and survive you would make sure they took the medicine, right? A fear for some parents may be the way the medicine affects their child. No one wants to see their child medicated and groggy but this is 2019, times have changed. There are many options available with medication that can help manage symptoms and will not negatively affect your child’s personality or cognitive abilities.
A good doctor will work with you to decide the best type of medication and dosage. Be vigilant in determining the best medication and ask for a change if you see that it is not working or is giving your child any problems. That same mama bear instinct that you have when someone or something threatens your child comes into play here too. You are the bet advocate for your child and you can tell the doctor that you want a change at any time. Keep the lines of communication open with your child, their friends and your entire family to determine if things are improving. If not, take another route.
It is hard to imagine that any parent would allow their child to suffer through an illness or injury that makes them in pain or even threatens their life and mental health issues should be considered in the same way. If taking a daily medication will save your child’s life, you will make sure they take it. Sadly, it can be a matter of life or death when dealing with mental health. Far too many adolescents take their own lives when there could have been a remedy for their suffering. Some startling statistics state that for adolescents between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the second highest cause of death. Additionally, there are more teenagers who die from suicide than a combination of stroke, lung disease, flu, AIDS, heart disease, cancer and birth defects put together. On a daily basis, more than 3,000 young people (high school age) attempt suicide. The majority of these teens who attempt suicide have given some warning signs that were ignored. These are statistics that cannot be overlooked.
No parent would ever willingly put their child’s health at risk. It is time that parents understand that to truly ensure a child is healthy in every area, mental health also needs to be considered. It cannot be stressed enough that there is no shame in needing help. Talk to your kids. More importantly, LISTEN to your kids. You may not always like what they have to say but it needs to be heard. Getting help will make them stronger, safer and may save their life.