How to Support Adolescents Through Mental Health Challenges, support in Calgary, AlbertaMay 16, 2023
Knowing how to support adolescents during their teenage years can be challenging for their caregivers and support network. It’s a transitional period, full of neurological, hormonal, and behavioural changes that can leave educators, parents, and counsellors feeling overwhelmed and reactive rather than supportive.
During adolescence, youth may feel more pressure, worry, and bewilderment in how their bodies, beliefs, and connections are changing. They may even experience mental health challenges as pressures change and grow.
Guidance and help from teenagers’ support network are essential as they face new experiences and develop their independence. We can be there for adolescents by listening to their worries, acknowledging their emotions, and providing helpful advice when asked.
During adolescence, youth may feel more pressure, worry, and bewilderment in how their bodies, beliefs, and connections are changing.
How important is it to support adolescents through mental health challenges?
The Mental Health Commission of Canada estimates that 1.2 million children and youth in Canada experience mental health issues each year. Furthermore, a third of Ontario secondary school students (34%) reported moderate to severe psychological distress in a survey conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
These numbers show just how crucial it is to address adolescent mental health issues. CAMH states only one third of teens receive the mental health supports they require. When it comes to mental health, this is where their support network can play a pivotal role, in both early detection and providing adequate resources.
Guidance and help from teenagers’ support network are essential as they face new experiences and develop their independence.
What are the signs that an adolescent might be struggling?
There are some key indicators that a teen may need help with their mental health. These may go beyond the “typical” adolescent behaviours.
- Mood swings can look like sudden irritability, anger, or sadness for no apparent reason. If these moods persists for more than a few days, check in on them. Also keep track of their mood in the coming days and weeks.
- Problems falling or staying asleep could be an indicator that your adolescent is struggling with overthinking, depression, or anxiety.
- Changes in appetite or shifts in eating patterns, such as binge eating or not eating at all may be a cue your teen is struggling – be sure to check in on them and ask questions.
- Loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities or withdrawal from social interactions they once loved and wanted to attend are also red flags.
- Coping or numbing with drugs or alcohol could be a sign of emotional troubles for your teen.
- Physical health challenges such as headaches or stomach-aches, back or neck tension may indicate a mental health challenge. Our physical health is directly tied to our mental health.
- A decline in academic performance, such as missed assignments or failing grades when they were previously doing well in classes could be an indicator they’re struggling.
- If they have expressed suicidal thoughts or any signs of self-harm, it is crucial that you seek immediate professional help in your local area.
How can I be a support?
- Open up a line of communication by asking the teen how they’re feeling. Maintain an open ear by listening to understand and providing empathetic responses.
- Ask open-ended questions and pay attention to their answers. Many teens will say that the adults in their lives may listen, but they aren’t actually hearing what they’re telling them – so be curious!
- Don’t pass judgement or brush off their worries. An adolescent’s perception is their reality, and life may feel really difficult to them.
- Set limits, boundaries, and expectations for your teen. Structure can help adolescents understand what the limits are – even when they push them, boundaries act as a safety net.
- Be there when they need someone to talk to. Yes, this may happen late into the evening when you are ready to turn in for the night, but it’s a great way to show that you care about them and what’s going on in their life. However, keep in mind what’s appropriate given your relationship to the teen – if you’re a teacher, maybe defer the call to a caregiver or let them know you can talk at school.
- Encourage the teen to take on more responsibility and choose their own path in life. Let them make mistakes and get the help they need to improve. If they don’t have the opportunity to make mistakes, they won’t be able to learn and grow – this is a natural part of life.
Parents and caregivers may also benefit from participating in a parent support group or seeking advice and support from a medical professional. Or they may want to reach out to a school counsellor, mental health professional, or attend therapy themselves in order to learn how to better support their teen.
Both adolescents and those in their support network may struggle with the changes that come with this new phase of life.
Both adolescents and those in their support network may struggle with the changes that come with this new phase of life. But teens are capable of becoming successful, healthy, and self-reliant adults with the right strategies and support. You can help the teens in your life get through this tough and exciting time by encouraging open communication, setting limits, providing emotional support, encouraging independence, and, if necessary, seeking professional help.
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