Teenagers today are facing increasing mental health issues as stressors from school, social media, and the political climate increase. From 2005 to 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found a far more rapid increase in the rate of depression among youth ages 12-17 than any other age group.

Despite these rising numbers, there is still a stigma around mental health. One of the hardest things for both parents and students is to facilitate a healthy conversation surrounding emotional wellbeing, so student leaders who serve on the district student Social Emotional Learning Advisory team provide insight on student mental health and how parents can help.

a boy sitting behind his laptop running his hand through hair making a stressed face

One challenge for parents can be recognizing when their child is struggling with their mental health. Abigail Garrison, a senior on the SEL student team, said that a warning sign for mental health problems is “dropping out of things that the student used to find a lot of joy in.” This can be seen when students drop clubs or sports they enjoyed or when they stop hanging out with friends as much.

Another warning sign could be bad hygiene, like not getting enough sleep or not brushing their teeth says Hollis Kolb, a sophomore in the program.

One issue with the parent-student conversation on mental health is that parents may dismiss these warning signs as “typical teenage behavior.” Hollis remarks that one of the barriers for teenagers to speak to their parents about their mental health is the worry that “their parents will ignore them.” Kamryn Dean, another senior in the group, states that it can be difficult to match up a parent’s advice with what the student needs from them.

Taking the first steps to start a conversation on this topic can be difficult for both parents and students. Abigail finds that it’s important to show love and acceptance without forcing a conversation and that it’s best if the teenagers just know their parents are there to support them. Opening up about mental health is a big step to take and is easier when there is an open invitation you can use at your own pace.

Another big step is creating a foundation of trust. When it comes to topics like this, teenagers must know that their feelings are private. Kamryn says a big part of this trust is “letting kids know that their parents can have a boundary about what’s confidential.” Along with this, parents should make sure to not go behind their child’s back or corner them into professional help. While this can be a beneficial opportunity, if the student doesn’t feel comfortable with this method, it will not help. Therefore, it’s important to create an open dialogue around emotional well-being so that parents and teenagers can evaluate their needs together.

a girl sitting in a dark room with her hands in her hair looking sad

Though it can be hard to take these first steps, having an open conversation about mental health can have a wide variety of benefits. Hollis says that one benefit is the improvement of mental health when “you feel like you aren’t alone, and you don’t have to carry it all by yourself.” These conversations also normalize the topic in the household which can lead to better conversations with siblings or other family members in the future. Put simply, Abigail finds that these conversations create a foundation of support. This support can make a large impact on the health of a student if they are struggling. In addition, Kamryn details how parents benefit, too. He says that it can allow the parent and child to grow closer. When you create that foundation of trust and support, you develop your relationship into a more mature level.

Almost everyone has experienced a difficulty or dip in their mental health at some point. Even opening a dialogue about this subject can provide benefits for everyone involved. Parents can help their students by extending an offer to talk further or by researching to understand what their teenager is going through. There is no reason to be ashamed of your struggles with mental health and every conversation can help reduce the stigma surrounding it.