Break the Stigma: Talk to Your Teen About Mental Health and Depression

Modern teenagers are more fortunate than previous generations because our society has become more open to discussing mental health and depression.

Mental health topics are very popular on social media apps like YouTube and TikTok, with celebrities and influencers openly talking about their mental health struggles. Seeing a therapist is also more common now than when I was a teenager, but there is still a stigma towards having mental health problems.

Sadly, a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes make it difficult for teens to admit that they need help.

Start the Conversation Early

Don’t wait until you notice your teen looking depressed to begin talking to them about mental health and depression. Establish good communication with your teenager by spending time with them, talking to them, and asking them how they feel in a way that is casual and supportive, not interrogative.

Teenagers need to trust you and know that they can come to you no matter what and not be afraid of being punished or made to feel bad or guilty. If your teen does something you don’t approve of, talk to them like an adult and work it out the same way you would work things out with a friend.

ALSO: Parenting Style — Are You Authoritative, Permissive, or Authoritarian?

If you try to act like you know everything and they need to do what you say because you’re the parent, they’re not going to come to you for anything, especially something serious like a mental health problem.

Maintain constant and open communication with your teenager, listen to them, ask them about their thoughts and opinions, and respect their points of view.

If your teenager begins to complain that you’re asking too much or demanding too much time from them, scale it back and just make it clear you are there for them when they need you and just check in at least once a week by asking them how they’re doing and remind them again that the door is always open.

Normalize Mental Health

Normalizing talking about mental health will make your teen more likely to feel comfortable talking to you if they are experiencing any problems.

Create a safe and supportive environment by regularly making it a habit to ask your teenager how they feel and encouraging them to share their thoughts and problems with you. But remember, don’t force them to share if they don’t want to.

If you know people who have struggled with their mental health, talk about it with your teen in a supportive and open way. Teach them that it’s ok for people to struggle; the important thing is that they get help so that they don’t suffer alone.

You can also watch videos, TV shows, and movies about people who are struggling with their mental health and talk about them. The Perks of Being a WallflowerGirl InterruptedEighth Grade, and Euphoria all tackle mental health in a way that is realistic and relatable for teens and can get a conversation started.

Ask your teen if they would feel comfortable coming to you if they were experiencing any mental health struggles. If they say “no,” ask them what you can do to make them feel more comfortable coming to you.

ALSO: Is Your Teen Depressed or Just Sadfishing?

The way you approach this topic is very delicate. You don’t want to make your teen feel like you think something is wrong with them; you just want them to know that taking care of their mental health is just as important as taking care of their physical health.

Because teenagers are prone to being depressed and experiencing other mental health issues, they should be aware of the signs to look out for so that they can get help when they need it and not feel ashamed. This information is also useful for them so that they can help their friends if they see them struggling with their mental health.

Educate Your Teenager

Educate your teenager on mental health struggles and the different ways that mental health issues can manifest. Depression is one of the most common types of mental health problems, especially among teens.

Talk to your teenager about the signs of depression, which are:

· Feeling tired all of the time.

· Not getting enjoyment out of things that you typically enjoy.

· Crying or feeling intense sadness.

· Having angry outbursts or feeling irritable over things that do not warrant that level of anger.

· Not sleeping enough or sleeping too much.

· Feeling worthless and always blaming yourself.

· Not feeling hungry and losing weight, or overeating and gaining weight.

· Difficulty concentrating and completing tasks.

· Not wanting to get out of bed or do much of anything.

· Frequently thinking about dying or committing suicide.

While these are some common symptoms of depression, it’s important to recognize that this is not an exhaustive list and that symptoms can vary widely from person to person. The Youth Mental Health Project offers downloadable information sheets on various mental health issues, presented in a clear and accessible format, which you and your teen can go through together.

Talk About Your Mental Health Journey

Talk about your own mental health struggles with your teen. Even if you have never been diagnosed with anything, it’s highly likely that you have been depressed or anxious at some point in your life or you know someone who has struggled with their mental health. 

Discussing your own experiences and sharing how you worked through them can help your teen understand that you know what they’re going through.

Model Good Mental Health Habits

Journaling, meditating, doing yoga, exercising, spending time in nature, and pursuing hobbies are all fun ways that you and your family can take care of your mental health.

Encourage your teenager’s hobbies and interests and set some time aside for your family to do some activities together, like going on weekend camping trips, having a weekly family game night, or reserving one day out of the week to cook and eat together.

What To Do if Your Teenager is Depressed

If you notice your teenager is depressed, calmly sit down with them and focus on “I” statements, avoiding labeling them or making assumptions about them. Stick to the facts, what behavior you have noticed that has worried you, ask open-ended questions, and focus on how you feel rather than how you think they feel.

You can say something like, “I noticed that you’ve been tired a lot lately, you dropped out of drama club, and you have been missing school a lot. I’m worried about you. Is everything ok?”

ALSO: The Links Between Social Media and Teen Depression

Ask your teenager if they want to see a therapist. They need to know that they might not connect well with the first therapist that they go to and might need to see several before finding the right one.

Finding the right therapist can be extremely difficult for someone who is depressed and finding it difficult to complete everyday tasks, so don’t force your teen if they don’t want to see one. It’s also perfectly fine if they decide to stop searching for a therapist if they haven’t found one that they feel comfortable with after seeing several different therapists.

If your teen is depressed and you want to offer suggestions to help them, encourage them to journal, talk to you or someone else that they can confide in, rest, and take time off school if they need to.

ALSO: You Should Encourage Your Teen to Travel After High School

Feeling depressed is just like any other illness; sometimes, you need to rest and let it pass. The more you force yourself to be productive when you’re depressed, the worse the symptoms can get.

If our society viewed mental health in the same way we view physical illnesses and disabilities, it would be easier for those who suffer from mental health issues to get help.

You can’t force your teen to talk to you or get help if they need it, but you can make sure that you are there for them no matter what and will support them.

Tracy Lowe

Tracy is a writer and filmmaker from Los Angeles, but Thailand has been her primary home for over a decade. She has more than 13 years of experience teaching young children and is a major proponent of the Reggio Emilia approach to learning.

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