There is no doubt that the last few years have been tough times for all of us. However, one of the groups thought to have been most affected by the pandemic, the news of the war in Ukraine and other recent issues are teenagers. There is no doubt that these events have impacted teenage mental health, with one survey suggesting that 54% of 18-year-olds and 51% of 19-year-olds say they felt feelings of depression since the start of COVID.
With that in mind, here are six ways to support teenage mental health.
How to support teenage mental health
1. Help them identify an achievable goal
Having something to focus on and work to can help turn negativity into positive action. And hitting goals offers that boost of confidence and feelgood hormones that help improve our mood. When a young person has decided what they want to achieve, parents can help them break down the steps they need to take to achieve it. Whether it is helping them find their ideal job, master a hobby or simply to become more organised, support them as they work through the steps, and plan something to celebrate when they achieve their goal.
2. Praise them
Parents need to remember to praise young people for trying, even if they don’t succeed. Praise them for making an effort, rather than only praising change. The journey is just as important as the destination, and making effort is the way that success comes eventually, so make sure they know their hard work is appreciated and encouraged.
3. Make time to talk
Making time to talk with your young person should be a priority. Maybe set regular times to simply listen to them and persist even if they reject you. Don’t push them, but find a way that works for you and your family. For example, if your young person doesn’t like to talk, perhaps have them write down the things they’re feeling. If you’re concerned about teenage mental health, try to open the conversation naturally when you are in a relaxed environment, such as when shopping, cycling and so on, rather than siting them down for “a talk”.
4. Never dismiss what they’re feeling
Be careful not to minimise any of the problems the young person might be facing. Avoid saying ‘it’s no big deal’, ‘we all feel low’, or ‘there’s nothing to worry about’. Try to understand and support your teen, rather than dismissing them. Instead, work through their concerns together and help them conclude on the ways forwards themselves.
5. Provide them with positive self-talk strategies
Give them a phrase that they can repeat to themselves when they feel anxious about something. It could be something like ‘I’m going to face the things I’m scared of, and I’ll feel better afterwards’. Consider what will work best for your child and their preferences.
6. Breathe together
Parents and teens can practise controlled breathing together, as a way to support teenage mental health. Discover techniques together that they can use whenever they feel anxious or in a high-pressure situation. You can look up controlled breathing exercises online or simply breathe in for a count of five, hold for a count of two, and then breathe out for a count of seven.