According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people age 15 to 24 in the United States. With this deadly phenomenon on the rise, it is important for families, friends, and peers to understand the negative warning signs someone may be exhibiting, how to talk about and manage those signs, and how to improve one’s mental health overall.
Our young adult years are some of the most crucial and influential years of our lives, full of new people, places, and experiences. However, these new experiences combined with academic, social, and family expectations can be difficult for some to navigate. The emotional, physical, and financial demands of these expectations can have a negative effect on the mental health of many young adults.
According to Dr. LaTasha Sullivan, the Director of the University of Toledo Counseling Center, there are various warning signs that someone who is feeling sad, depressed, and/or suicidal may exhibit. These signs include a lack of motivation or effort, changes in sleep patterns, non expressive or overly expressive emotions, personality changes, and other unusual behaviors.
If these signs are evident, Dr. Sullivan suggests that a parent or peer lean in and further engage with their friend or loved one. Acknowledge that you notice these changes in them, whether it be their loss of interest in something that used to be important to them, a change in their hygiene or physical appearance, or even being socially withdrawn. If you happen to notice any of these changes, it is encouraged that you ask how things are going, even if nothing is wrong.
Researchers have found that teens are more likely to talk about their challenging situations with their peers rather than an adult, making peers the perfect advocate for their friends. If a teen were to notice any of these warning signs in their friends, they are encouraged to reach out to them, reinforce their friendship, and depending on the situation, inform a trusted adult that they are concerned.
While these tips are helpful, there are also things that teens should avoid doing.
“Do not spread rumors or tell others their business; just be a friend and actually try to help them or find someone who will,” said Dr. Sullivan.
Improving mental health
Improving one’s mental health is an individual journey, but there are things both teens and their parents can do to improve their mental health.
For teens, this involves considering all of the components of their wellbeing, such as physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and academic. They should take a look at these different areas of their lives and then ask themselves, “What’s an area that is meaningful to me that I haven’t given much attention to?” This process will help them identify important areas that could use personal improvement. Then, help them find activities to help fulfill these areas that perhaps they weren’t doing before, such as adjusting the kind of food they consume, attending more social events, exploring nature, or even working out.
This process will look different for everyone, so it is important that they do not compare their mental health journey to others.
For parents, this involves being a positive role model, actively promoting your mental health and wellbeing, and demonstrating positive examples of self care. It is important for parents to implement household rules that promote positive mental health and to provide their children with engaging opportunities to help fulfill their wellbeing.
“By talking about mental health and ways we can improve and support ourselves, parents can give their teens room to be honest with themselves and actually take the steps necessary to improve their mental health. But if we are not preparing them and giving them resources on how to manage their emotional needs, how to develop healthy coping skills, and how to amount to distress, then they are going to express themselves in ways that feel right to them,” said Dr. Sullivan.
Talking To Your Teen
Although addressing mental health issues with teens can feel awkward, it is important for parents to be non judgemental when talking with their children about the importance of positive mental health and asking for help when it is needed. You do not want your child to feel cornered or criticized’ therefore, enter the conversation with an open mind and open-ended questions. Invite your child to talk in a private location, address the changes that you have noticed, reaffirm that you care, and give them the space to respond.
“As a parent, I would rather have an uncomfortable conversation with my child than to worsen their struggle unnecessarily. We can relieve some of their suffering if we just engage with them and give them space,” said Dr. Sullivan.
Although these conversations can be uncomfortable, and even scary, they are necessary. Dr.Sullivan suggests that the best way to approach these topics with your child is to provide them with your full attention, be present without distractions, and give them adequate space to respond. Even if you do not notice anything different with your child, you should still have these discussions about mental health and let them know that you are there for them, and that they can rely on you.
National Suicide and Crisis Hotline
Chat at 988lifeline.org
Crisis Text Line
Text “HOME” to 741-741
Zepf Center Crisis Care Helpline