It's OK to not be OK
If you've been following trends in mental health over the past few years, it's been hard to ignore the numbers. Increased rates of depression, anxiety, toxic stress and suicide have flooded news cycles and with good reason. The numbers don't lie. One subgroup that is experiencing an increased number of mental health disorders is our teenagers. It's hard to look at the numbers and not point to things like social media, technology, greater demands on high school classes, lack of social interaction and poor self-care as the root causes for these numbers; however, until we change some of these practices (which may take a generation or two), let's help our teens right now. Here are a few things to start with:
1. It's OK to not be OK
One thing that is still clear in the wake of recent celebrity suicides is there is still a negative stigma around mental health disorders. The first step in destigmatizing is validating. We need to let go of the phrases such as "there's no reason to be anxious" or "you're overreacting". By letting our kids know that it's ok to be anxious or depressed, we are modeling the type of self-talk they should internalize.
2. Feelings are like clouds
It might sound a little cheesy but it's true. The majority of negative feelings don't last forever. By helping children understand that their anxious feeling, however powerful and long lasting it may appear, will go away like it always has. The cloud analogy is helpful because some clouds are darker and linger longer but in the end they always move on.
3. Take care of yourself
Most of you have heard the airplane comparison of always putting the oxygen mask on yourself first before placing the mask on your children because if you pass out, you're useless. Countless teenagers are pressured to put their studies, extracurricular obligations and family first and in turn forget to take care of themselves. Start with the basics. Make sure they are getting enough sleep, exercising and eating well and that may solve half the problem.
4. Get help
One good thing about the rise in social media and technology is the amount of resources and ease to access them. There are 24-hour helplines, telemedicine, online support groups, helpful websites, etc. that are often free and helpful. Schools are also a great place to start the journey of building a support team. Ask to speak to the school psychologist or guidance counselor for a list of resources.
Here is a link with telephone hotlines and helplines: www.PsychCentral.com