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January 18, 2020

Why Schools (& Parents!) Need to Take Mental Health Seriously

The average teen has a lot going on. They go to competitive schools, overwork themselves to achieve perfect grades, commit to more clubs, sports, and jobs than they can handle, deal with family and relationship problems, and all the while must maintain a healthy social life that’s dominated by the virtual world of social media (which comes with its own rules and expectations). Whew! We’re overwhelmed just writing that sentence! It all amounts to our kids being under a lot of stress, often without helpful ways to cope. With mental health concerns among teens on the rise, we may see that our kids need help but have no idea what we can do. After all, they’re growing up in a completely different world than we did.

Related: 9 Homeschooling Tips from Real Parents

The importance of mental health assistance in schools

One D.C. public school system has seen this problem and decided to make a change. According to U.S. News, “District officials are piloting partnerships between public schools and community organizations that offer treatment and support that can help students cope, recover, and succeed.” So far the program, which is run by the Department of Behavioral Health, has helped students by giving them the option to receive quality counseling. One student who took advantage even opted for weekly meetings during her first year of high school: “I only really got better because I had support. If I didn’t have support, I don’t think I would be stable right now.”

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) states, “There is a growing and unmet need for mental health services for children and youth,” stressing that schools are the ideal place in which to provide those services. Sadly, they estimate that up to 60% of students today don’t seek help because of stigma and a lack of access to services. 

The importance of mental health assistance from parents

We’ve all heard the old adage, “No news is good news.” But in the case of mental health, it doesn’t apply. It’s easy to assume things are fine because there’s no diagnosis or because we haven’t heard anything to the contrary. But just being a teenager in 2020—which is way more complicated than in generations past, thanks to the Internet, smartphones, and social media—is a recipe for anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems, all of which they’re implicitly encouraged to keep hidden in order to maintain the image of “having it all together.” 

So just because we haven’t heard anything doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not struggling. And while many of them may not be clinically depressed or anxious, NASP reminds us that “mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness but also encompasses social, emotional, and behavioral health and the ability to cope with life’s challenges.” Our kids need us to be proactive in taking their mental health seriously.

But here’s the thing: Even if you do absolutely everything you can to make your home a safe place and show your teen they can tell you anything, sometimes they’re just not going to tell you. And that’s ok. There can be something really freeing in speaking with a neutral, emotionally uninvolved third party. So if your teen’s holding back from telling you everything they’re going through, please be encouraged in the fact that this is normal teenage behavior, and maybe all they need is a counselor to talk to.

What you can do for your teen at school

This is why helping schools make counseling available to all students is important. If students know that someone is there to talk to at any time for free, it can feel like a lifeline. But local school districts may not recognize the need or may simply be slow to make changes, so parents can work with them to make it happen. It may take time, but it could make a huge difference in many students’ lives. 

In the meantime, make sure your teen knows you will take them to see a counselor at any time. Talk with them about the benefits of counseling and see if it’s something they may be interested in pursuing. If your teen is nervous about the idea of counseling, remind them that you do not need to have a mental illness to get help. Therapy is just a way to learn some helpful tools for coping with everyday scenarios or to work through some tougher issues. (If you’re not sure where to start, check this site to find a Christian counselor in your area.)

What you can do for your teen at home

Everyone needs a place to feel safe. So even if your teen doesn’t want to talk to you about every detail of their life, you can still foster a healthy relationship and home environment that invites rest. Below are a few ways you can be a safe place for your teen and offer them ways to manage their mental health.

  • Start a conversation. Ask your teen lots of good questions to get a feel of where they’re at, such as: How are you handling your homework load this year? Do you feel overloaded? If so, what are ways we can better manage your schedule? How are your friendships? Is there any way I can be a better help to you?
  • Prioritize restful activities.
  • Help your teens cut down the number of obligations they have (i.e. clubs, sports, volunteer work, etc.).
  • Pray for them! Ask God to provide the support and assistance they need, to give them the courage to come talk to you or someone else when they’re struggling, and for His protection from spiritual attack.

Additional Resources

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