What do teens wish parents, their friends, even their doctors, could understand about what it feels like to have mental health issues? In Just a Thought, a recently released book researched, designed, and edited by teens of the Wellness Committee at Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto, CA, young people share advice in their own words, through first-of-their-kind, uncensored narratives.
Just a Thought is an honest and extraordinarily helpful guide by teens for anyone seeking to understand a teen’s journey through mental illness. It gives voice to the thousands of teens dealing with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, and OCD.
Teens share how their mental health concerns are often misread as overreacting, making up excuses, laziness, or just a “phase” that will pass. Just a Thought offers a new perspective through teens’ own words, to correct these misperceptions and to build empathy.
Readers learn that support means something different to each young person. As support people, it is our responsibility to try to understand the unique needs of the young people in our lives and learn from them what they would find supportive. Here are a few examples teens shared in Just a Thought:
“Check in with me.” More often than we realize, teens want to share what is going on with them. It might be that we, as support people, are afraid to start conversations. Even if what you say is awkward or imperfect, saying something is usually better than saying nothing.
“Always offer to listen without pushing too much or prying.” Don’t ask too many questions. Those you do ask, make sure they are open-ended, to invite someone to share more. Disguising criticisms as questions isn’t allowed!
“Don’t question my experience.” Saying, “everyone goes through it,” or “you’re making a big deal out of nothing,” minimizes a teens experience and is not helpful, particularly if the young person is feeling isolated and very different from their peers. Rather, join the young person in how difficult it must be.
“Be OK with what I am going through and do not judge me for it.” Hold back cross-talk and the urge to talk your child out of his/her feelings. Doing so creates a “safe space” and helps your child feel accepted. This means not being critical, even if you may have a strong opinion.
“Get me help.” Teens are often relieved when the offer is made to see a therapist. It validates their experience as real and important. It provides hope that healing is possible.
According to the Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, one out of four youth in the U.S. is currently struggling with a mental disorder. It’s time we see mental health as just as important as physical health. Chances are that you or someone you know could benefit from the “do’s and don’ts” that fill the pages of Just a Thought.