May marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month — a month that has been observed in the United States since 1949. Since then, the number of adolescents reporting poor mental health has steadily increased. Many of these young people are not just “feeling down” but rather are struggling with decision-making, experiencing problems at school or in the home, or grappling with their overall mental and physical health. Oftentimes these issues can develop into risky behaviors such as drug use, underage drinking, or perilous sexual behaviors that can lead to STDs or unintended pregnancy.
So, what can you do? Well, there is good news. According to the CDC, feeling connected to school and family works to support teen’s mental health. Fostering supportive, protective relationships with adolescents who are struggling with mental health will help them grow into healthy adults. According to Mayo Clinic, here are some things to look for when discerning your child’s mental health:
- Persistent sadness that lasts two weeks or more
- Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions
- Hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself
- Talking about death or suicide
- Outbursts or extreme irritability
- Drastic changes in mood, behavior, or personality
- Changes in eating habits
- Loss of weight
- Sleep deprivation or over-sleeping
- Difficulty sleeping
- Missing or avoiding school
Learning to recognize these warning signs and communicating openly and honestly about these issues with your child begins the road to mental wellness. In addition, speaking with your child’s health care provider about your concerns can open up opportunities for your child to speak with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health care professionals. A diagnosis or evaluation provides you with valuable information about steps moving forward—each unique mental health issue requires a unique approach. Until then, here are some ways you can help your child at home:
- Communicate openly and honestly
- Make time to relax or do something your child enjoys
- Keep open communication with your child’s school and the trusted adults and family members in their life
- Volunteer or get engaged with your child’s school and afterschool programs
- Get involved with parents of teens with mental health groups
- Ask your child’s mental health care professional for advice on how to respond and adapt at home
Just like your child, you also need support and community when searching for answers and advice. Thankfully, there is a world of resources readily available to help equip you for the road ahead. While mental health issues may be a sign of the times (after all, the world has endured a difficult last two years), it does not mean you are helpless. Combining a positive, protected home environment with appropriate mental health care means a world of difference to both you and your child.
Stay positive. Stay protected.