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Parenting WELLNESS

How To Have The Conversations About Mental Health With Your Kids That You Didn’t Get To Have With Your Own Parents

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STATISTICS SHOW THAT OUR TEENS ARE STRUGGLING. BUT WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO TALK TO OUR YOUTH ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH WHEN THOSE CONVERSATIONS WEREN’T NORMALIZED FOR US GROWING UP? EXPERTS SHARE INSIGHT.

BY VICTORIA UWUMAROGIE · 

With new reports coming out that include the Surgeon General’s Advisory of the harm social media is to children and adolescents to the CDC’s latest findings that teen girls are experiencing record levels of sadness and suicide risk, and that there has been an increase in suicide attempts for Black youth, it’s clear that our kids are not doing well when it comes to their mental health. In addition to ensuring that they’re succeeding in school, eating right and physically healthy, in this day and age, as suicide rates of youth increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever that parents prioritize the mental health of their kids as well. 

“We know that prior to the pandemic, 1 and 5 children suffered from a mental health disorder, indicating that there was a mental health crisis even then – but certainly since the pandemic we have seen rates of sadness and anxiety increase, especially for teens who suffered the most during the pandemic,” says Janine Domingues, PhD of the Child Mind Institute. “The pandemic led to social isolation during a critical developmental time period for teens – and we know that social isolation is a risk factor for depression. We also know that teen girls are more vulnerable to negative mental health outcomes related to social media, including cyberbullying and negative body image.” Our youth, especially our teens, need our help – and the good news is that we know that mental health disorders are real, common, and treatable – there is hope and it requires on-going conversation, decreasing stigma, and increasing access to care.”

Thankfully, conversations about mental health are more prevalent and welcomed than they’ve ever been. If you were a teen growing up before the advent of social media suffering with your emotional wellbeing, there’s a chance that you struggled to talk about it — with anyone. Therapy wasn’t something widely made use of prior to this time, especially not for youth of color, and talking about mental health struggles with your peers also wasn’t that common. And projects centering stories of those grappling with it often featured characters that seemed like they were only spiraling (Prozac NationGirl, Interrupted), which didn’t necessarily help. So coping as best as you could on your own was often the only remedy. That is no longer the way things are. 

“Our youth, especially our teens, need our help – and the good news is that we know that mental health disorders are real, common, and treatable – there is hope and it requires on-going conversation, decreasing stigma, and increasing access to care,” says Domingues.

In regard to on-going conversations, experts like marriage and family therapist Nina Westbrook, creator of Bene by Nina, which offers resources to cultivate wellness, say they’re crucial to helping a child receive support and in turn, treatment when necessary. 

“Young people are getting more support with their social, psychological and emotional needs,” she says. “There are positive tools and resources out there but there’s so much negative.” 

“It’s important to remove the stigma attached to talking about mental health because, if we don’t, people will continue to suffer in silence and will remain afraid to ask for help when needed,” she adds. “The fear of being vulnerable prevents us from being able to deepen our connections with others and that leads to more isolation. Being vulnerable with one another is essential; it makes us more comfortable and shows us that we can relate to others as we connect on a deeper level through shared experiences.”

While there are some young people who may feel comfortable going to their parents when they don’t feel good mentally, there are others who may still keep what they’re suffering with to themselves. It’s important for parents to model openness about wellbeing so that children can do the same.

Click here to visit Essence.com and read the full article

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