Tips to Help Your Teen with Mental Health Issues
Gazing at the darkened void around you as you lie covered in a soft throw at midnight, you begin to panic. With an increase in heart palpitations and a sweating brow, you think about your baby boy. You know, the one that used to pick dandelions for you in spring and smother you in hugs and kisses before bed each night. The one who played firefighter with the sprayer from the kitchen sink soaking the drapery and the one who sang Who Let the Dogs out for the umpteenth time testing every last bit of your patience. You know, the one you prayed for and continue to pray for daily, yearning for only the best for him and his future endeavors.
Only now, that baby boy is a teenager with gangly limbs that extend off the edges of his twin-size bed and with a deep voice that reverberates off the not-so-freshly-painted walls of your home. The one who now sleeps past noon on weekends, taps out your weekly grocery bill, and hangs out with friends who may be a bit too familiar with the legal system. Sadly, the same one who also now questions his self-worth and reason for his daily existence as he experiences severe depression and suicidal ideation. You know, the one looking for something, anything, really to tell him that it’s not his fault that he is like this and there is hope that it can be better. As a parent, this is all that you can ask for too. For the times may have changed, your love for him has not, because to you, he will always be your baby boy regardless of size and circumstance.
However, in your despair, you want nothing more than to scoop up that boy of yours and rock him in your arms to sleep; comforting him, reinforcing that he is loved and wanted. But today, as you raised your arms to embrace him, he refuses. Instead of leaning in, he takes a step back, leaving a bit more distance between the two of you than there was yesterday. So instead of stepping in and cradling him, you mind succumbs to worry. It fills with the most unpleasant of thoughts and you wonder: Is he okay? Does he know how much I love him? Will he tell me if something is wrong? What if he doesn’t? Is he safe? The relentless thoughts of a fearful parent continue, despite the safety plan that has been put into place by his therapist and school. What if the plan fails? What if he makes a decision that will ultimately be his last? Can I save him?
Not wanting to concede to the horror of this possibility, you push forward; seeking answers from professionals and support from the loved ones and friends you alike. You find a community for yourself, yet still, you watch your son struggle. The demons within have taken root and, despite all the praise and encouragement you provide, all he hears is insults and rejection. All he sees is darkness. He hasn’t yet noticed that with a little help and a lot of determination, these feelings will pass and brighter days lie ahead.
In an effort to claim victory over defeat, consider the following ideas.
- Create a secret word, phrase, or actions that will tell you if your child is at risk or in danger. Doing so will allow you to know when to act more intensively to a situation when the need requires it. It also warns of a more serious situation that demands immediate action.
- Have your child rate his/her mood daily with a number scale that corresponds to the intensity of good or bad feelings with one representing negative, five being neutral, and ten representing a positive outlook. This can be done orally or through a text, note, or other means.
- Provide him a safe place to speak, if not with you, then with another caring adult such as a teacher, pastor, or therapist. Your child needs to know that the things that he has to say are important and deserving of others’ time and attention.
- Ask questions, even if you feel that you will get no response. Asking shows interest in your child and with time may promote a more open conversation in the future.
- Encourage your child to write down his/her thoughts in a notebook that can then be shared between you. This allows a child who may not want to vocalize his/her thoughts to still convey his/her feelings effectively, just in written form. You can jot notes in response to your child’s entry and exchange the journal back and forth as needed.
With that said, please take the time to remind your child of his worth, even when you feel that he is not listening. Encourage him to achieve his dreams, even when he doesn’t know what they are. Model to him self-love even when all he knows is self-loathing, and be there for him when he wants nothing more than to be alone. You were picked to be his parent for a reason and the support that you provide to him could be lifesaving. You never know when your words or actions are enough to make a difference, don’t give up. Be strong. Be brave. Be resilient. Be the consistent parent that he needs so that he knows that he is loved and wanted no matter what.
Schedule an appointment with a CHI Health Mental Health Therapist today.