Sometimes, the problems we see others facing are so huge and complicated that we think there is no way to help. The truth is, there is always some way to help, especially a loved one. When it comes to mental illness, parents are a huge factor of affecting it. You either make it better or you make it worse, there is no in between. The good news is, you can follow the steps in this article to be a supportive parent and help your teenager survive their mental illness.
When someone goes through a mental health problem like anxiety or depression, especially at a very young age, it more than likely shapes their lives and affects their future. Their behaviors, thoughts and words change, and their priorities get mixed up. It is important to remember as their parent that this is Not their fault. It is not a physiological sickness like a cold that they can treat with cough drops and soup. No, this is a much more complicated and tougher illness that affects a person’s lifestyle intensely, and controls the mind and accordingly how they live their life. While it is disappointing and worrying to notice that your teenager is changing to the worse, the most important thing is not to blame him or her for it. As a parent, your job is to let them know that you are here for them no matter what, and encourage them to seek out help from the right resources .So let’s begin first with how you can make your teenager’s mental illness worse:
You blame them for it. I cannot stress this point enough. You need to understand as their parent, that they are already blaming themselves, because feeling guilty is a huge part of mental illness; feeling that you are not good enough. So, when you come in to rub it in their face that they are not trying hard enough in their life, or that this is their fault, then congratulations, you just intensified your teen’s mental illness and increased their low self esteem. In some cases, a teen can also hurt themselves if they feel like their own family cannot understand or support what they are going through, so, as a parent you do not want to risk that.
You compare them to their siblings or peers. Your teen is already comparing him or herself to their friends, or famous figures they see on the media. When you compare them to other people, you encourage them to hate themselves and will contribute to their low self esteem. Saying things like “why can’t you be like your brother/sister, or look at your friends….” is destructive, and illogical. You have to understand that your teen is the way he/she is because of an experience that they went through, or a particular gene that was passed on to them. T
heir friends might not have a mental problem, but they had different experiences and a different upbringing than your teen. Therefore, comparing your teen to them is like comparing a president of a country to a chef; they are simply different people because they had different life experiences and opportunities.
You tell them to “toughen up” and let them suffer alone. Whether your teen is a guy or a girl, the effect of their mental illness on them will be intense. Therefore saying things like “toughen up, you are a man” or “stop crying you are a big girl” underestimates their pain and suffering. Most importantly, it will make them feel weak and worthless, and that right there increases their guilt. In addition, leaving your teen to suffer alone without helping him/her seek help from a psychiatrist will only make the illness worse, and can possibly cost them their life. After all, you are the parent, and it is your duty to take action on their behalf. You have to remember that a person suffering from mental illness cannot make sound judgments for themselves, so while seeking help from a doctor is the logical thing to do, it might not seem like a good idea to your teen.
Now comes the optimistic part; you can be a huge part of your teen’s road to recovery and a healthy happy life, here is how you can do that:
Support them. Support, support, support! This is the number one key to helping your teen recover. They are already feeling low so showing them love and support them is exactly what they need. Support can come in different forms; always remember to offer to talk to them, and be a shoulder that they can lean on. Support them by suggesting mental health counseling and scheduling an appointment on their behalf if they are scared to do so. Feel free to share your own personal experiences to let them know they are not alone. Most importantly. Let them know that you are here for them anytime, no matter what.
Activity involvement and events. Because mental illness usually causes loss of interest in activities, you might notice that your teen does not participate in the activities that he or she used to engage in before. Understand that this is normal for a person in their situation and make sure you try your best to involve them in regular activities. It can be anything from family trips, to mall hangouts or eating at a restaurant. Don’t take it personally if they say no, and instead of pressuring them, try to be subtle about it like saying “I would like to take your opinion on something” instead of “let’s get you out of the house”
Show them around. By show them around, I don’t mean show them around the city; no, show them people who are in tough situations as well. The mistake a lot of people make when communicating with a person who has mental illness is telling them that there are people out there who have other problems as well. That sentence is true but saying it this directly underestimates a person’s mental illness. So, to best show your teen that there are people suffering in the world from tougher problems, take them to a hospital and ask them to wait for you in the waiting room, while you pretend to make an appointment. The sight of people in pain is tough but it will definitely make them feel some sort of appreciation of where they are in life.
Words of Affirmation. Finally remember, to always love your teen no matter how complicated their mental illness is, after all, it is not their fault, and most importantly, they are a part of you.
By: Lana Mehiar, Anxiety In Teens Contributor