- The teen years are difficult enough, but when you factor in the high susceptibility to and prevalence of mental illness, these years become even tougher.
- Fortunately, parents can help their teens cope with mental health conditions.
- It all starts with educating oneself and knowing the warning signs pertaining to negative behavior patterns.
- When a parent does notice some red flags, they need to initiate a conversation with their teen—it’s crucial this is done naturally, rather than a forced manner.
- Finally, parents need to then focus their energy on supporting their child in seeking professional help and learning to manage their illness.
It’s no secret that one’s teenage years and youth are the hardest segments of life to handle. Even those who have now reached maturity remember the turmoil that came along with those times— although, overall, some might say they were the best years of their entire existence.
While being a teenager can surely be fun, it is also a nightmare for many. Statistics published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness have uncovered that 1 in 5 teenagers and young adults live with some type of mental illness. And out of all of them, roughly half develop the condition by the time they’re 14, while the rest follow suit up until the age of 24 (at the latest, for young adults). Simply put, it occurs often among members of this particular age group.
Recent studies have shown that youths are prone to addiction and mental illness more than adults simply because their brains are wired differently at this stage. Not only are they more susceptible to instant gratification, but they also handle stress poorly. When these two oddities combine, the results can be disheartening.
How You Can Help
It’s nearly impossible to handle poor mental health alone. Therefore, you will need to support your child through this rough time. However, you have to do so in a way that isn’t intrusive or pushy—after all, you want to help them, not isolate them. Here are three safe ways to help your teen cope with mental illness:
1) Educate yourself.
When it comes to the topic of mental illness, becoming educated is crucial. Knowing how to recognize whether or not your child is struggling with a disorder of the mind is the first step. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are quite a few warning signs pertaining to destructive behavioral patterns that you can identify as a parent.
A troubled teen throws temper tantrums often or displays irritable behavior, and they sometimes have trouble sleeping due to nightmares or insomnia. He or she might also be constantly worried or anxious about mundane matters, or situations that they keep secret from you. This also seems to be coupled with a loss of interest in regular activities. Your adolescent might also isolate themselves from their friends and suffer from a lack of energy and drive. This also leads to academic decline. Thus, your child’s grades might also be lower. In the worst of cases, they might even abuse drugs and alcohol, exhibit reckless sexual behavior and possess a desire to harm themselves or those around them.
There are many red flags that pertain to this issue, and they never appear in a universal formula. This is because your child is already grown enough to handle things in their own way, and this will happen with mental illness as well. All that you can do is be aware of the symptoms and identify them in a timely fashion.
2) Open the conversation.
If you’ve managed to identify one or more of the aforementioned warning signs and are convinced that it’s not just a case of temporary teenage rebellion, then it’s time to open the conversation. This is the tricky part no matter who you’re dealing with it, but it becomes even more so when the prospective patient is in their adolescence.
Therefore, it’s important to avoid creating a special moment for the talk. This will seem forced, staged and like an intervention. Mental Health America suggests pursuing a discussion in a moment when you and your child naturally spend time together, such as in the car or while doing housework. If your teen seems willing to engage with you, then proceed, but remember to tread lightly. The smallest sign of pressure will push them right back into their shell. This can then make it difficult to regain their trust so that they accept a second try. The important thing is to allow them to feel safe and show them that you are ready to help.
While finding the appropriate moment for communication can be tricky, you shouldn’t postpone it too much either. As detailed in an article published by www.schizlife.com, schizophrenia, as well as other instances of mental illness, can take a devastating toll on one’s personal relationships. The more you wait, the more your teen will tend to isolate themselves. They will start refusing to discuss not only with you, but with their peers as well. Thus, if you wait too long, the gateway for an honest talk might close for good.
3) Be supportive.
Once the conversation has been opened, it’s essential to have the right attitude. You must show your child that you are supportive, but this shouldn’t cross the line into enablement. Do your best to listen and understand the problem from their point of view. This can be hard, especially when your parental instincts are pushing you to intervene, but you must stay calm.
Don’t act as if the world has just ended because of their illness. Even if your child is depressed, bipolar or schizophrenic, treatment will always exist. Instead of panicking over what they are sharing, assure them that what they’re going through is common and completely solvable. It’s recommended to normalize their condition, but don’t make it seem trite either. Never use the word “crazy” or impose a course of action upon them. Your task is to act as a mediator and encourage them to seek professional help. You’re not there to be strict, so don’t give in to the temptation to organize their life. They might not seem old enough to know what they want but allowing them the space to think it over makes all the difference.
Being the parent of a teen who is struggling with a disorder of the mind is challenging, and it’s perfectly fine to admit that. But when dealing with your child’s situation, you must have due diligence and gain as much knowledge as possible so that you can open a candid and fruitful conversation. And when that happens, be supportive and things might just work out.
*Alex Moore is a psychology undergraduate and blogger who advocates for mental health awareness in general and a better understanding of schizophrenia in particular. You’ll typically find him contributing to Schizlife. Alex is very active on Twitter @alex_moore01.*