1 in 5 teens and young adults live with a mental health condition. Over half of these youths develop the condition by age 14. Chances are your child or one of their friends will develop a mental health condition during their teen years. Opening the conversation for your child to talk about mental health problems with you is extremely important. It can help create a comfortable environment for discussion when instances occur.
Be Open and Honest
Opening yourself up to talk about mental illness is one of the first ways to start discussing mental health with your teen. Having the right attitude before you even begin a conversation can make or break your teens willingness to be honest with you. If your teen knows you are open to discussing the subject, they may ask you probing questions later while working things out for themselves.
When you have these conversations it’s important to be straightforward with your teen. Normalizing mental illness through discussion and walking through plans for finding help or sharing your own story, if you’ve struggled in the past, can all be a part of this. You should always speak honestly about how mental illness affects people and acknowledging the real implications it has in lives rather than sweeping it under the rug.
Listen and Learn
It may seem obvious but listening to your teen as they share their own experiences with mental health conditions should be a priority. Future conversations cannot take place if your child thinks that you’ll write them off and not listen down the road. Acknowledge their fears and feelings as valid to open future conversations.
There is a difference between normal teenage behavior and early signs of mental illness. Knowing these differences can make you a stronger parental figure. Research these signs, common stigmas, and help programs in your area. Preparing yourself to answer questions at any time means you can have an open dialogue with your teen.
Revive the Conversation Later
Speaking about mental health once does not mean you’ve crossed it off your parental to-do list. Keeping a continual conversation flowing is optimal as it allows your teen to ask questions and seek your advice when situations arise. Checking in with your teen about their own health or their friends is a great way to comfortably recap and show you care and will remember their validated feelings.
Create a Safe Space
Cultivating a spirit of honesty and creating a judgement free zone is what your child will need if they are to share with you their or others struggles down the road. Being open to them seeing an impartial counselor or talk with a professional can help them start that conversation. Never use words like “crazy” or argue with how they feel. If your child feels that you’re feeling defensive, they may not ask for your help again.
If possible encouraging your child to see a professional counselor at school or outside of home at least once a year is a great idea. It normalizes the option of therapy in their eyes and gives them a safe space to discuss their life. We get yearly physicals at doctors’ offices, why not mental check-ups as well?