How to support youth mental health

It is normal for teens and young adults to feel overwhelmed at times. There is no shortage of pressures weighing on them - fitting in with peers, school work, sports, family responsibilities, preparing for college/life after high school, body image, sexuality, and the lingering effects of social isolation during the pandemic. Families can help young people manage stress, build self-esteem, and learn to be resilient in facing challenges.

The goal is not to make sure that your kids are happy at all times but rather to make sure kids have the tools to weather the storms of life. As Dr. Lisa Damour writes, “Mental health is not about feeling good. It's about having the right feelings at the right time and being able to manage those feelings effectively.” Here are some ways families can help:

CULTIVATE HEALTHY COPING SKILLS Life is going to be stressful at times. It is important for teens to know how to manage that stress in healthy ways to minimize the risk of them reaching for an illicit substance to self-medicate. Here are some helpful resources for families:

ENCOURAGE MIND-BODY WELLNESS Physical and mental health are closely linked. Teens and young adults need to get sufficient sleep, fuel their bodies with healthy foods, exercise, and be mindful of screen time to be healthy in body and mind.

Teens need at least 9 hours of sleep. Most are not getting enough, and it can take a toll on their mental health.

Exercise is proven to decrease anxiety and help elevate mood.

Good nutrition is critical to both mental and physical health. Teens and young adults tend to gravitate towards processed snack foods and sugar-filled treats, which can lead to sugar spikes and changes in mood.

Screen time, particularly time spent on social media, can have a detrimental impact on well-being. Helping your child find balance is critical.

CREATE OPEN LINES OF COMMUNICATION It is normal for teens and young adults to pull away from their parents and families. It can be challenging to maintain a close relationship during these years and ensure that your child feels comfortable turning to you for advice or support. But there are some things that families can do to help sustain open lines of communication, including:

  • Listen, don't lecture

  • Praise them for positive actions

  • Keep your own emotions in check

  • Look for ways to spend time together

  • Validate their feelings rather than jumping to problem-solving.

The Child Mind Institute has more tips for communicating with teens.

FIND PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT WHEN NEEDED Half of all mental health conditions begin by age 14, so families should understand the signs of common mental health issues and how to raise concerns with a teen who is struggling.

Talk about mental health in your home, help to de-stigmatize mental health with your children and let them know help and support are always available. Here is a great primer on what to know and what to say:

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