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PROGRESSIVE PARENTS: WHAT TEENS WISH ADULTS UNDERSTOOD ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH TALK

Frustrated Mother and Daughter — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis


“We heal in the context of our relationships.”

Dr. Susan Johnson

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.

Learn more:

Works Cited

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COMMENTS: 15
  1. April 25, 2019 by Isabella B

    Hey awesome job I’m curious to know the results for your survey at the beginning tall be sure to check back. Also I was checking out your call to action in the second source is really really good. I think it has exactly how parents should go about talking to the kids about mental health. I’m fortunate that I have very understanding parents but I know that that’s not the case for everyone. What gave you the idea to do this topic?

    • May 01, 2019 by Shilpa.H

      Thank you! I’m glad you have such understanding parents. I grew up in a fairly conservative country and so did my parents. It’s considered taboo to be “mentally weak”. Starting the conversation about my concerns about my mental health was challenging to say the least. I figured that was not fair to anyone. If we, the current generation, have the opportunity to be more progressive, they should have that chance too.

  2. April 25, 2019 by Veronica Kruschel

    I love the way you organized your presentation! You made it easy and interesting to read, and the way you incorporated visuals made it pop even more. It looks like you put a lot of time and effort into making and organizing your page. All of the visuals you use are aesthetically pleasing while also connecting to what you wrote and giving your page another dimension. I like that you included a survey at the beginning of your presentation as it encourages whoever is reading this to think about how the issue affects them personally, which makes this all the more engaging. Being able to see the results of the survey is a nice touch; it gives something concrete to back up your claims and is a statistic that the reader can personally connect to (rather than statistics from studies, which while interesting and useful, can feel distant and separate from ourselves). Your writing is eloquent and it’s again obvious that you put a lot into this presentation.
    I’d love to hear more about how the different steps to spark/ catalyze change went; you have some wonderful ideas and it would be great to see how they turned out or how they’re in the process of turning out!

    • May 01, 2019 by Shilpa.H

      Thank you so much! I feel like allowing people to look within themselves about a certain subject gives them more perspective and provides a certain level of context that any amount of explanation may not be able to. I’ve been talking to my school counselor about the idea of a parent seminar, however, it isn’t very possible right now with exams and the end of the semester looming. I will be taking this up as a personal passion project next year with hopes of actually causing change. For now, though, I will be addressing the issue with my family; change begins with oneself 🙂

  3. April 26, 2019 by Jessica.Furstein

    I really like your page and how you conducted that very short survey in the beginning. It was very interesting to see the results split 50% for parents and friends, and 0% for professional help. I also really like how you created the anonymous story board for anyone to share their stories, they were super powerful and held a lot of meaning. I do wish there were a few things listed on ways to make it easier for kids to talk to their parents, or maybe something related to the parents point of view if their children did come to them. Great page though!

  4. April 28, 2019 by Lauren Mazza

    I really like your page and topic. I think this issue is really important in this day and age because there is a big stigma around mental health in parents. I love your call to action and think it is a great idea to let people tell their stories without being afraid.

    • May 01, 2019 by Shilpa.H

      Thank you so much! I believe that allowing people to tell their stories anonymously allows a certain amount of discretion. Eventually, however, I hope that people will be unafraid of sharing their personal stories. Knowing who experienced it can make a story all the more powerful in sparking change.

  5. April 29, 2019 by Bella Kemp

    I loved your presentation, it is one of the best interactive presentations that I have seen! From the survey at the beginning to the anonymous storyboard, each experience has a point to the presentation. Great job!

    • May 01, 2019 by Shilpa.H

      Thank you so much!

  6. April 29, 2019 by Samira.Kethu

    I think this is so important since many parents don’t really understand mental health. You did an amazing job showing how to go about talking about mental health. Your presentation was also very aesthetically pleasing! Great job!

    • May 01, 2019 by Shilpa.H

      Thank you so much! I totally agree. Parents didn’t – and perhaps don’t always – have the opportunity to learn about what we have access to today. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to help them as well!

  7. April 29, 2019 by Sarah Eichler

    I think that this is a really important topic as mental health is becoming more of a concern at younger and younger ages. Many parents don’t understand how real and serious it can actually be, and what the best way to help their child is. I really like your anonymous story board, as reading others’ stories can be comforting and even empowering. Why do you think so many kids/teens are afraid of telling their parents about mental health issues?

    • May 01, 2019 by Shilpa.H

      In my opinion, so many youths are afraid of talking to their parents due to the fear of an unknown reaction. With your friends, you know that they perhaps are going through something similar or will be there for you in some way or another. With parents, it’s different. In some cases, it may be that the stigma around mental health issues is so strong that kids are afraid of disappointing their parents – their role models.

  8. April 29, 2019 by Anika Stenberg

    This is something that is very important to be addressed. I’ve definitely had personal experience with this topic and know that it can be very frustrating if parents don’t fully understand how to talk about mental health issues. Some things they may think are beneficial could actually be making the situation worse. What suggestions do you have to make teens more comfortable confiding in parents or other adults?

    • May 02, 2019 by Shilpa.H

      I’ve had personal experience in this area as well and I do hope your situation is better now! If I could go back and tell myself anything about confiding my parents, it would be to educate them a little beforehand. What I mean by this, is start the discussion without bringing yourself into it first. When I told my mom, she knew nothing about what mental health issues and how to deal with mine. If I had perhaps brought up something I’d learned in school about mental health beforehand, she may have been more understanding. I hope this makes sense!

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