9 tips for talking to kids & teens about mental health
By Brightline team
By Brightline team
To celebrate World Mental Health Day, the Brightline care team is sharing tips and tricks on how to approach conversations about mental health as a family, or with any young person in your life, in a compassionate, supportive, and nonjudgmental way.
Even though mental health struggles are common, many can feel alone in their experience. And unfortunately, youth mental health has only been getting worse over time. According to Mental Health America, “not only are the number of youth searching for help with their mental health increasing, but throughout the COVID-19 pandemic youth ages 11-17 have been more likely than any other age group to score for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.” So, it’s more important than ever to have open, honest, compassionate conversations.
It’s totally normal if starting the conversation feels intimidating or overwhelming. We’ll take a look at how stigma can keep kids from sharing, and the many ways you can help young people in your life feel safe and supported.
First thing’s first. How does stigma play a role?
Gen Z and youth in general are definitely more open than previous generations with their mental health, particularly with their peers, but the stigma and barriers to seeking support still exist. Some are hesitant to bring their concerns up with parents or caregivers because they aren’t sure how they’ll react, they don’t want to worry them or be a burden, they’re worried they’ll be “labeled,” and for so many other valid reasons. Some kids worry about being stereotyped — for example, in some communities depression can be misunderstood as laziness or lack of motivation. Kids can sometimes fear being judged by others or singled out.
You can create a home environment where emotions are discussed openly and without shame within your family or with any important young person in your life. Acknowledging the stigma (while letting them know that it’s safe and welcome to share) can help address concerns a young person might be having.
9 tips to approach conversations about mental health with a kid or teen in your life
1. Share your own feelings.
When you model that emotions are common and healthy to talk about, a young person will be more likely to feel comfortable opening up. It’s important to be in a stable place where you’re coping well before you share (sharing extreme sadness, anxiety, or anger in the moment can be overwhelming for young kids).
2. Talk together about mental health (at their level).
Sweeping mental health experiences under the rug can contribute to shame and stigma. A good way to open this door could be to talk about it as it comes up in your family, the community, or even in the news. A reference to someone they admire might be a good start — Simone Biles, anyone?!
3. Encourage them to open up, too.
Let them know that talking about what they’re feeling, even when it’s hard or uncomfortable, is a normal and healthy part of life.
4. Understand the role of sibling dynamics.
If they have any siblings, you’ll want to be aware of dynamics when it comes to mental health. Each young person is individual, and we recommend being sure to see them that way.
5. Start small.
When talking about difficult emotions, it can be helpful to start with shorter conversations, especially if you notice they seem agitated or uncomfortable. Try it out in a place you know they’re comfortable, so it doesn’t come off as intimidating or give off that “let’s sit down and have a talk” feeling.
6. Try calming techniques.
You can try doing breathing exercises with them before or after tough conversations, or if intense feelings come up during the conversation and they need a break. You can also encourage them to try other coping skills, like moving their body, drawing, or naming their feelings.
7. Be present.
It’s important to be fully present and patient in these conversations. Listen attentively to what they’re sharing and give them space to say and feel whatever is coming up for them.
8. Respect their boundaries.
If they don’t want to share their experience right away, be patient and respect their choice. Let them know that you’re there for them when they are ready to talk.
9. Let them know that support is always available.
It sounds obvious, but just hearing that you have their back, and that support is available to get them through it, is valuable. Let them know that they have options, whether that’s therapy, psychiatry, mental health coaching, or talking to trusted adults like teachers or guidance counselors. Emphasize that they’re not alone — young people everywhere are going through it.
For more resources on how to talk to kids and teens about mental health, sign up for a free Brightline Connect account and check out the Family Mental Health Collection here. As always, Brightline is here for you no matter where you are in the process.