The number of young people diagnosed with mental illness has been on the rise as we continue to expand our understanding of how these conditions work, and how best to diagnose and treat them. More than one-third of high schoolers struggle with persistent sadness or signs of depression, a 40 percent uptick from 2009.
While our ability to recognize and diagnose mental health issues has improved, there are other reasons why teens nowadays are more anxious and depressed than ever. Environmental conditions, piling crises, and historical events have all contributed to growing neuroses among adolescents. If your teen has been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, it is sufficient to say they are not alone. And neither are you.
This is not the end – far from it, in fact. Here’s what you should know.
Talk To a Professional
First things first – mental health issues should be treated like any other long-term, at times chronic medical condition. This means you listen to the advice of medical professionals and consult them as often as possible. It can be difficult and confusing to try and communicate with someone who is anxious or depressed. Their behavior, their thinking, and the things they say sometimes make little sense. Everything you try to do to make it better seems to backfire. Kind words seem to sting them like insults.
It’s important to understand that some mental health conditions can make your mind operate on a different level and change the logic behind your thinking. Your teens may be stuck in a cycle they can’t escape alone. Helping them work with a therapist can be an excellent first start – but you need to work with one, too. Talk to them about your teen, and about how you’ve been feeling. Get a better understanding of what your teen is going through, and what you should do to help.
It’s Not Your Fault (And It’s Not Theirs)
It can be particularly hard to hear this, but it isn’t always someone’s fault. It is essential to realize that, in most cases, no one can be blamed for a mental health issue. And even when there is someone to blame – a perpetrator of abuse or the cause of your teen’s trauma – that anger and hatred might not necessarily bring any amount of healing or closure.
It doesn’t help your teen if you get angry on their behalf. On the other hand, it’s natural to be upset – but remember that your priorities should lie with what’s best for your teen and not what feels most satisfying at the moment.
Learn More About Supporting Them
Education is paramount. It’s one thing to know your teen is depressed, but it is another to discover that it is a form of seasonal depression and that specific triggers and factors – including a change towards wintertime, holiday preparations, and end-of-the-year stressors – are significant contributors to their distress.
Talk to your teen and their counselor or therapist about how they’re doing, what they’re feeling, and how their condition might continue to affect them at home and throughout the day. Some teens may experience dual diagnosis disorders, which combine one or more disorders, such as substance abuse disorder, depression, and more.
Take Care of Yourself
Your own mental well-being is important, too. Not only should you take care of yourself for your own sake, but you need to do it for your teen. If your mental and physical health begins to deteriorate due to your dedication to your teen’s treatment, that can quickly backfire and affect them, too.
Guilt is a powerful emotion and a common one for a lot of teens who discover that they have a mental health condition. No one wants to feel like a burden. Self-care can come in many different shapes – whether reading some of your comfort books more often, taking the dog out alone for some meditative time, keeping a private journal, or finding the time to exercise after work. Put aside enough time and resources for your own wellbeing.
It Does Get Better
One of the more difficult parts about supporting someone in treatment or being part of a long-term support network for a loved one is the fatigue. While sometimes, mental health problems get better and “go away,” they’re not something we can control or cure.
We can manage symptoms, improve mood and wellbeing, and adopt healthier coping mechanisms. Some teens become more successful at independently managing their mental health than others. Some just become good at hiding their symptoms for the sake of their loved ones, so they can stop worrying. But in many cases, it never completely goes away.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always bad. It gets better – especially when things are at their worst. That’s when you can always be sure that they get better again. Life with mental illness is full of ups and downs.
You’re More Important Than You Think
Once you start bringing your teen to different experts and schedule meetings with therapists and psychiatrists, the whole process can begin to feel overwhelming – and you begin to feel that there’s very little you can do to help them feel better.
But don’t let that kind of thinking fool you. Therapy can go a long way, but a teen’s home environment, the behavior of their primary role models (you), and parental guidance play immense roles as protective factors against worsening symptoms and recovery relapse. No matter what happens, you will continue to be a cornerstone for their mental health and wellbeing, and a significant part of their health journey may involve you learning how to best support them.
By creating a solid support network at home, welcoming your teen for who they are, learning more about how their condition works, and being patient and communicating with your teen’s therapists, you can continue to have a positive everyday impact on your teen’s emotional and psychological wellbeing, even if it doesn’t feel that way on a day-to-day basis.
There are constant ups and downs when tackling mental illness, and it’s a rollercoaster struggle. Some weeks feel full of hope as you stride towards real actionable change in your teen’s behavior. Other weeks feel bleak. It’s important not to give up or let the bad weeks wear you down too much. Change in mental health occurs gradually, requiring constant reminders to manage and make peace with stress and focus on healthy coping skills.