Teen Mental Health
We Need to Talk About it
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As a parent of two children and an Executive Director of a charity that combats bullying, I am deeply passionate about mental health and specifically about adolescent mental health. I am now trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid and am grateful to have participated in the “We Got This” Youth Mental Health Summit in Denver this month.
The stressors and anxiety our teens are under has never been greater and it is taking the ultimate toll. Over the past three years, Colorado’s teen suicide rates have risen 58%, making Colorado the sixth-worst state for teen suicides according to a study by the United Health Foundation. (This is nearly double the national growth rate!) Furthermore, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States—starting with children at age 10 all the way up to adults at age 33. Mental health goes beyond suicide. The World Health Organization in November 2021 announced these key facts:
- Globally, one in seven 10-19-year-olds experiences a mental disorder, accounting for 13% of the global burden of disease in this age group.
- Depression, anxiety and behavioral disorders are among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.
- Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15–19-year-olds.
- The consequences of failing to address adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.
These figures are alarming! Our youth are crying out for help.
I often speak about how we as parents and caregivers are required to outfit ourselves in a superhero cape when it comes to taking care of our kiddos. In bullying, it is up to us as adults to stand up for children who are targets of bullying. It requires us to stand tall, become brave and take some deep breaths and methodically advocate for our kids. The superhero, all hands-on deck mentality applies for children burdened with mental illness as well. It should not come as a surprise that children who are relentlessly bullied very often experience depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal ideation.
What follows are some wonderful pointers I heard from The Liv Project in their presentation entitled “Fearless Communication and Parenting – Pushing Past Stigma to Support Those You Love.” (Make sure you read about the Liv Project as our featured Champion of the Month below.) Honey Beuf, Executive Director of The Liv Project offered this insight when helping our teens and youth with mental health concerns:
- If you as a parent sense something is wrong, then it probably is.
- Pay attention to changes in behavior. (Mood, sleeping behavior, eating, grades, change in friends, no friends, etc.)
- Be on the lookout for children having a lack of interest in things that used to interest them.
- It is not your problem to solve, but rather an opportunity for you as a parent or caregiver to listen, express empathy, love them no matter what, and really listen to all that they are willing to share.
- Take the opportunity to place suicide numbers in their phone.
- Know that talking about suicide does NOT make someone commit suicide. Being able to talk about those feeling will bring a sense of relief.
- Almost everyone has a crisis. They need your help.
- Ask your child how they are feeling emotionally rather than “how was your day?”
Parents and family members play a pivotal role in helping children navigate depression, anxiety and stress. It is worth our energy and time to ask ourselves some questions and model positive behavior:
- Am I normalizing talk about mental health?
- Do I ask others for help?
- Do I offer an environment that is judgement-free and caring?
- How do I de-stress?
- Am I open about my own mental health struggles?
- Do I make time to listen?
- Do I lecture or do I listen?
- Do I empathize or do I problem solve?
- Do I use social media to boost my self-esteem, or does it make me anxious?
Helping our youth with their mental health struggles is a partnership. It requires patience, understanding, deep care and love. It isn’t an easy walk and necessitates us to keep that superhero cape firmly attached around our neck. It requires an empathetic ear and some self-reflection too. The journey is laborious AND it is most certainly worth it.
By Dru Ahlborg
Bullying Recovery Resource Center