While I was going through a particularly rough time last year, I sought out the help of my school counselor. At some point, I said, “I just wish I could tell my parents how I really feel.” To which, he replied, “So, why don’t you?” Of course, I was scared of what their reactions would be, like any other teenager. It didn’t occur to me until much later how much of an issue this fear could be in teenage life. This topic is of such personal importance to me due to how much I’ve seen my parents’ mindsets grow to become more progressive over the course of my mental healing.
THE ISSUE AT HAND:
A number of polls and studies have shown that when faced with a mental health issue, a present-day youth will most likely turn to friends rather than parents. The current generation has been lucky enough to live in the prime of mental health awareness thus far. Whether it’s in real life or online, mental health seems to be a subject the majority of youths feel comfortable talking about. This occurrence can be attributed to the rise of mental health education in schools as well as through social media. Present-day adults were not granted this opportunity.
The concept of mental health has been around for over a century, however, it has only become a topic of concern in the last few decades. Ask your parents, teachers, or any adult you know whether they learned about mental health during their schooling years; chances are, the answer is “no”. It simply was not something people openly talked about back then. As long as you were physically well, there seemed to be no reason or need for concern. If this was the way the older generations grew up, what’s to say their mindset has changed? This also puts them at risk of being misinformed on the subject which can be equally as bad and possibly worse than being uninformed at all.
From here is where the issue emerges. According to Dean Burnett, a doctor of neuroscience, “The human brain, powerful as it is, can still be overwhelmed by the complex world we inhabit, so when it comes to creating mental models of how the world works, it operates a general ‘stick to what you know’ policy.” He goes on to talk about how suspicion, doubt, dismissal, etc. are signs of the brain saying “this is NOT how the world is meant to work, so I must dismiss this challenging new information”. A common example of this is a present-day teenager trying to talk to an adult about feeling depressed and getting the “oh, it’s just a phase; you’ll get over it” response.
Fearing a response similar to this, teenagers avoid trying to talk to their parents entirely; no one benefits in that situation! It only leads to feeling distant from loved ones.
STRATEGY FOR CATALYZING CHANGE:
To get the parents at school interested in simply understanding the importance of teenage mental health is currently a main goal of mine. This kind of change is no simple feat to be pulled over-night, however, below are some steps that I plan to take.
CALL TO ACTION:
As part of the #speakout idea, I have created an anonymous story sharing board HERE on which you can share your story/experience with talking about mental health with your child or parent(s). This aims to encourage people to talk about mental health more openly without judgment. It can also serve as a way to let people know that they are not alone in their experiences.
- Time To Talk: Talking To Your Parents
- How to talk about mental health with your kids
- Mental Health Resources For Parents of Adolescents and Young Adults
- How to Talk to Your Parents About Mental Health and Getting Help