It’s World Teen Mental Wellness Day (March 2nd), and commemorating this day is more important than ever. Teens are facing a mental health emergency, and it seems like it’s only getting worse. So what can we, as adults, do about it? Here are some tips from your EAP team.
What is teen mental wellness, and why is it important?
This day is dedicated to destigmatizing and improving mental health for teens. Although anyone of any age can struggle with their mental health and should focus on cultivating mental wellness, teens often need special attention.
Reports show that adolescents today have the highest rates of depression and anxiety of any other generation. One in seven teens around the world experiences a mental illness. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for 10 to 14-year-olds, and the fourth-leading cause for 15 to 29-year-olds.
Unfortunately, reports show that teen mental health has steadily worsened, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic – although reports show that teens were struggling more and more with their mental health long before the pandemic.
So why is this? Experts say there’s no singular answer. Many factors have contributed, including:
- Increased social media use and comparing self with others
- Increased pressures in the modern world
- Hormonal changes that happen during puberty
- Relationship challenges
- Genetics and family history
- The isolation and fear caused by the pandemic
On top of these common risk factors, certain groups of teens are more likely to face mental health struggles. For example, LGBTQ+ youth are up to 7 times more likely to attempt suicide than other teens. Black teens are also more likely to attempt suicide than other racial groups. This is, in large part, due to the heavy discrimination that these teens have to deal with.
Teen mental health is something we need to take seriously as a community. While some may brush off teen mental health issues (by claiming that they will “grow out of it,”), we know from research that teens who experience mental health problems are more likely to experience them as adults as well.
On top of this, World Teen Mental Wellness Day isn’t just about preventing mental illness. True mental health is about helping teens thrive – and just because a teen hasn’t been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, that doesn’t mean that they are truly mentally well.
Mental wellness is about creating environments in which our young people:
- Grow, both emotionally and mentally
- Have self-worth and self-esteem
- Have relationships that are healthy and positive
- Have safe adults in their lives who they trust
- Are resilient against traumatic or other unpleasant events that may happen in their lives
And we don’t need to be licensed mental health professionals in order to nurture mental wellness for the teens in our lives.
What can parents and other adults do to support teen mental health?
Luckily, there is something that all of us can do to help support teen mental wellness. Here are some tips.
Remember you can be the “one adult”
Research shows that having one safe and trustworthy adult in their lives greatly strengthens teens’ resilience against trauma. In other words, just having one adult they can go to can greatly change the course of their life – especially after they’ve gone through a difficult experience.
It’s easy to start feeling helpless as a parent, teacher, or community member. You might start thinking, what can I really do? What power do I have? The truth is that you hold a lot more power and influence than you might think. Try to become this “one safe adult” for the teens in your life. It makes a big difference.
Encourage them to talk about feelings
It’s also important to create safe spaces in which teens can openly talk about how they are feeling – without being judged for it.
You can help teens express themselves by asking about emotions. For example, instead of asking about what happened during the school day, you can ask about how they felt. If you know that an important event has happened in their life, you can help them name the emotions that they feel.
Empathy is critical when trying to support teens. Always try to put yourself in the teen’s shoes and see the world how they see it. It may be a very different worldview to yours – but that doesn’t make it any less valid. The key to empathy is to respect the other person’s worldview as valid. It doesn’t work if you see the world through their eyes, only to dismiss that view.
For example, a teen may experience painful emotions after a breakup. You may be tempted to think, “This is so silly. We all go through heartbreak as young people, but she’s going to get over this.”
This may be true for many of us. But demonstrating empathy would be to see her view as valid. If she believes that she will never get over this, then try to understand how painful that must be for her.
Help them build self-esteem
Teens are at the developmental stage in which they are figuring out who they are and where they fit into the world. They may do this by trying on different “identities” and engaging in personal exploration.
The important thing for them to understand during this period is that no matter who they end up being, they are inherently worthy and “good enough.” Encourage teens to explore their strengths and positive qualities. What makes them who they are? What parts of themselves are they proud of? And in what ways would they like to grow?
Encourage them to get help
Conversations about mental health are changing, and for the better. Mental health therapy is no longer something that’s looked down on or reserved for people with severe mental illness. We now understand that anyone can benefit from seeing a therapist – especially teens who may need extra support to build up their mental wellness. A therapist can help teens address mental health concerns like depression or anxiety, improve their relationships, build resilience, and more.
You can help normalize therapy for teens by approaching the subject yourself. For example, you might ask them what they know about therapy or share a time in which therapy helped you.
If you have a teen child who is on your health plan, MINES & Associates may be able to help. [MORE INFORMATION HERE – I’m not sure what services if any MINES provides to teen family members, or if this is more of just a psychoeducational post without this specific CTA to connect it to?]
To your wellbeing,
The MINES Team