One in ten young people experiences a mental health problem before they turn 16.
Experts from the Time To Change campaign say it is vital mums and dads reach out to youngsters while they have a bit more time to spend together.
Jo Loughran, director of the charity, says: “The summer holidays can bring about lots of new opportunities to talk about mental health with your child.
“You don’t have to be an expert. Just showing you’re in their corner and open to the topic can make a really big difference.”
Jo shares her top tips on how parents can talk to teenagers about the tricky issue.
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Jo says: “Nowadays you don’t always have to talk about mental health face-to-face.
“Teenagers might appreciate a text, an email or a WhatsApp.
“I suffered a bereavement recently and, while I didn’t feel ready to talk about it, I really appreciated hearing the ping of the phone with people messaging to make sure I was OK.
“The medium doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you reach out and ask, ‘Are you OK?’”
Jo says: “Time is a huge pressure for parents. While not every parent has days off over the summer holidays, it might be a good opportunity to find extra time to sit and talk with your teenagers.
“Perhaps they are less busy than they are when they are at school. We’d really encourage parents to bring up the topic when they can.
“We’ve done research with parents and many feel they don’t know enough. But you don’t need to be an expert to explore this topic.
“It’s OK not to know everything. Just ask, ‘Have you learnt about this at school?’ or ‘Have you and your friends experienced this?”
Jo says: “A great way of raising the issue is to say, ‘Did you see that star opening up about their mental health?’ or “Did you see that storyline on EastEnders about mental health?’
“Talking about something you have seen in the news, or on the television, is a good way of showing teenagers it is not a taboo subject.
“We should be talking about mental health like it’s everyday and ordinary. We know it is common.
“One in ten young people will have a mental health diagnosis by 16. We wouldn’t balk at talking about our physical health.
“We are looking for a change in generation so the young people of today will become adults who find it OK to talk about mental health. They will then reach out for help much earlier.
“This means the prognosis going forward is much, much better. If they hold these things in and don’t feel they can talk about it, it can escalate.”
Jo says: “Nine times out of ten you have some of your most interesting conversations when you are out shopping, driving or doing the school run.
“It means you are not sitting at home, pulling up a chair and saying, ‘Let’s have a chat about mental health’. It doesn’t have to be that formal. Teenagers are more likely to open up if they feel relaxed. It also means you are not overplaying the issue but it is coming up in a more natural way.”
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Jo says: “As we grow up we look to our peers. But we also look to the adults around us to pick up behavioural cues and what is OK to do and not do.
“It’s exactly the same when we are talking about mental health.
“If something comes on TV and you think it was interesting then try, ‘This happened to me or my friend’.
“Being open creates a culture where young people can look to adults and know it’s OK to seek help if you need to.
“It’s also good to demonstrate that you take measures to look after your mental health. Any protective factors are good, whether running is your thing, or if it is taking ten minutes out of your day to go for a walk.
“If you explain you are doing it because your mental heath is important to you, then it sets a good example for young people.”
Jo says: “It’s great if you feel able to talk about mental health. But if no one is properly listening in a way that is non-judgmental and open, it won’t help a great deal. Listening is one of the most important things you can do.
“If you want to be a good listener, ask open questions. Make sure that whatever you hear, you are being non-judgmental as you will encourage them to open up. Go at their pace. Don’t push for more if someone is not ready.”
Jo says: “It can be hard to know when your child needs help, or if they are having normal issues associated with growing up.
“Generally speaking, we know our children better than anyone else and you probably know what is normal for them. If there is something you feel worried about, you think it’s been going on for more than three or four weeks and it’s a real change for your child, then you may need to seek help.
“The first thing to do is to try to have a conversation with your teenager.
“Hopefully you can agree a plan together and get a better idea of what is going on.
“Usually the first port of call is your GP but there are also lots of charities around that can offer support and advice.”
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues, or someone you know is, call the Samaritans free of charge on 116 123
- For further information, see time-to-change.org.uk.
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