4 ways to support your child's mental health
Historically, the month of May marks the unofficial start of summer, flowers brought by April showers, Mother’s Day and, increasingly - mental health awareness.
While May has been officially recognized as Mental Health Month, also commonly referred to as Mental Health Awareness Month, since 1949, ever-increasing demand for mental health services and the growing mental health crisis, especially among teens and adolescents, has brought Mental Health Month to the forefront of public conversation. And it should be.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, “While all teens reported increasing mental health challenges, experiences of violence, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, girls fared worse than boys across nearly all measures. The new report also confirms ongoing and extreme distress among teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBQ+).” The report found 30% of teen girls had seriously contemplated suicide in the past year and 22% of LGBTGIA+ high school students had an attempt.
For caregivers, finding the right thing to say or do, or even finding care for their child’s mental health can be daunting, but we’re here to help.
Here are four ways to support your child’s mental health during Mental Health Month – and beyond.
Promote wellness in everyday life
Having a toolbox of coping skills that you can practice in everyday life, before someone is in crisis, can help build resilience for when life gets stressful or feelings get big. You can even find activities you can do as a family or one on one with your child or teen.
Encourage your teen to find ways to take care of themselves on a regular basis. This can look like incorporating movement into their day, perhaps a family walk and talk after dinner. Creating a habit of time to reflect and relax with some mindfulness exercises or a gratitude journal, or simply making sure they have time every day to participate in things that bring them joy and have a laugh.
Listen (and observe) first
While you may feel scared about what the answer may be, asking your child directly if they are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or not well, can open the door. They may not want to talk right away, but letting them know it’s ok to talk- and you’re ready to listen when they are - can let them know the lines of communication are open. It’s natural to want to provide your own opinions or step in and try to “fix the problem” but the key is to listen. Assume that their perception of an issue is true to them, even if you might disagree, and let them share their experience first before you interject. Asking open-ended questions gives them the opportunity to guide the conversation and validating their experience lets them know you understand what they are trying to get across. By opening communication, children are allowed to navigate their emotions within the safety net of your relationship.
On a similar note, observing your child can also have a profound impact. If a child who’s normally bubbly and outspoken suddenly becomes introverted and withdrawn – or if the reverse is true – this might be a clue that something is up.
“Secure your own mask before assisting others”
As the CDC puts it, “The mental health of children is connected to their parents’ mental health.”
Parenting and caregiving in today’s world is a hard job, regardless of whether you are supporting a child with their mental health. You can’t be an effective support person if you are leaving out taking care of your own health. Caregiving for someone else can bring out your own stress, burnout, depression, anxiety, or memories from your own childhood that much more. Finding effective coping strategies, your own support system, or mental health care is not just about helping you, it helps you help your child (and the whole family!) too, which means it’s imperative that parents, caregivers, and family members practice healthy self-care practices.
While as a society we are talking about mental health more than ever before, it can still feel difficult to raise a hand and ask for help. Let alone, find that help when you need it! Know that seeking out mental health treatment doesn’t mean you are “crazy” or you have failed somehow. It means that you are prioritizing the health of your child and family, just like you would if they had the flu or a broken bone. Vita Health is here to help with quick access to therapy. You don’t have to wait until things get out of control to seek help. Our therapists are here, to help with problems - big and small. Ready to request an appointment? Click here.
Just remember, mental health is health - 12 months out of the year.
Alyse LaRue is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, mental health advocate, and a Business Development and Clinical Programs Liaison at Vita Health. She's a toddler mom, Brooklynite, and loves a good pancake.