If you’re a parent with a teen with anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue, you’re probably overwhelmed. You might be frustrated, sad and helpless. These are all completely normal and reasonable feelings as you try your best to help your child manage their mental health. But… I have a good news: these conditions are treatable and you can play a role in making a positive impact! Here are four strategies you can implement right away:
Recognize the signs. The first step to helping your child who is struggling with mental health issues is to first pay attention to and recognize behaviors that may be indicative of mental illness. Not all signs and symptoms are directly observable, which is why it is important to pay close attention. Signs may vary depending on the individual, but in general, this could include the following, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
Lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed. For example, if your child used to love hanging out with friends on the weekend and you notice that they begin to stop doing this, it may be worth asking why they have stopped. Of course, spending some weekends to oneself even if they usually do not do so does not automatically mean that this person is struggling with mental illness. However, if you notice a consistent change in your child’s behavior, it certainly should not be ignored.
Lack of energy. This sign may be a little more difficult to notice from an outside perspective because many people struggling with mental health issues attempt to hide it. One common behavior that may be indicative of a persistent lack of energy is if your child keeps mentioning that they’re tired.
Restlessness. This sign is most likely more common in those with anxiety, but if you notice your child consistently shaking or fidgeting, it may be a sign of a mental health issue.
Realize that it might not be a “phase.” I know of a fair amount of people from my high school who were struggling with severe mental health issues. Oftentimes, their parents would realize that their child was acting differently, but would attribute it to them going through a “phase” that every teen goes through. This may be the case in some situations, but I cannot stress how important it is to not automatically make this assumption. So many teens suffer in silence simply because their changes in behavior are perceived to be a short period of teen angst or rebellion. By automatically attributing your child’s mental health issue as a mere phase that they will eventually overcome, you are becoming one less person that your child can turn to for help.
Show them that you care and be patient. Once you have recognized potential signs of anxiety, depression, or another mental illness in your child, it’s important to bring this up with them. In my opinion, there is no official correct way to do this. However, it’s important that your child feels safe and does not feel as if they are being confronted. An ideal place to discuss your concerns would be in a private place, potentially behind closed doors. I’ve heard of a few situations in which parents decided to have an initial conversation about mental health with their child in public places. While this may be a more convenient time for some people, conversations regarding private information should be done in a place where strangers are not able to overhear. When voicing your concerns, make sure that they know that you are bringing it up because you care and want them to be happy. If they do not open up to you right away, be patient. This brings us to the next point.
Make sure your child has someone to talk to. If some time has passed after your initial conversation about mental health and your child is still reluctant to open up to you, don’t push them to do so. A lot of the time, it can be especially difficult for children to open up to their parents about potential mental health issues simply because we do not want to upset our parents or make them feel like they did anything wrong. As such, some children are uncomfortable sharing such personal feelings with their immediate family members. If this is the case for your child, do not take it personally. Instead, make sure that your child at least has someone to share these feelings with, even if it is not you. At this point, it may be helpful to bring up the possibility of your child talking to a qualified professional or perhaps the school guidance counselor. In fact, it is possible that after sharing their initial issues with another individual, your child may feel more comfortable sharing these thoughts with you as well.
By: Kristine Watral, Anxiety In Teens Contributor