A Teen’s Guide to Mental Health
There’s a lot going on inside of our brains and in the world today. Often, it feels like we have little to no control over our thoughts and circumstances. You feel bombarded with upsetting and negative thoughts. Examples include:
• You’re worried so much and don’t know how to relax
• You’re so focused on counting calories and can’t enjoy food
• You’re focused on getting back online and can’t concentrate in school
We know things aren’t okay, but we don’t know what’s wrong and we don’t know what to do about it.
Recognizing When There’s A Problem
When are emotions or thoughts normal and when are they a problem? A behavior, feeling, or thought that started out as ordinary can grow and take on a life of its own. Many mental illnesses seem like everyday emotions that have gotten out of control and they’ve started getting in the way of living a normal life. Our mental lives are complicated and our brains can play tricks on us. It’s possible to feel like you have a handle on things even though you don’t. Sometimes, it takes a wake-up call from someone else to recognize when you’re struggling. For example:
• A friend might mention that you seem stressed out all the time.
• Your coach might ask why you’ve been missing so much practice.
• Your teachers might be concerned because you can’t focus on your classes.
Mental illnesses can be frightening, but think of them like another medical issue. Mental illnesses are medical disorders that run in families, like diabetes and high blood pressure. They are treated by doctors with prescriptions and therapy, much like your doctor would treat a knee injury or asthma. Having a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re broken, but it does mean you could benefit from expert help.
As a teenager, it can be hard to know where to turn if you have concerns about your thoughts and feelings. The adults you trusted for advice when you were younger can sometimes have trouble seeing your point of view. They may disagree with the choices you make as you seek your independence. They might still want to treat you like a child. You’re concerned they will misunderstand or overreact.
Your first step is to learn more about mental health illnesses so you can find proper help. Mental illness happens when emotions or disturbing thoughts start to control your life. The pattern of being controlled by your emotions starts to impact your life in negative ways. All teenagers, even mentally healthy ones, have strong emotions. Having strong emotions isn’t mental illness - it’s normal. Everyone experiences times of:
All of these feelings can be powerful. Mentally healthy teens experience strong emotions and being able to move on from strong emotions is really hard. For people with mental health conditions, moving on can feel impossible. Some teens learn strategies through counseling, while others benefit from treatment with medications or specialized therapies.
Be on the lookout for things that threaten to upset your life. Your life is made up of:
It also includes activities that are important to you, like sports or arts.
If any of these things are suffering because of your moods or behaviors, then you’re not okay. For example:
• You’re too exhausted to perform well in your sport because your worries keep you awake every night.
• You drop out of your activities because you feel empty or numb all day long.
• You’ve started doing unhealthy things because you don’t like the way you look.
It’s okay to not be okay.
Many teenagers struggle to stay mentally healthy. In fact, about half of all teens in the U.S. deal with some kind of mental health condition. If you have one, you’re not alone.
People with mental health conditions often choose to keep their struggles private, but one of the consequences of that privacy is other people with mental health conditions tend to believe they’re alone.
Talking to Someone
As difficult as it is, the most effective first step is to talk with someone you trust. An adult is the best choice, but talking to a friend can help too. Being connected to other people is a critical part of staying mentally healthy. Talking through problems can make things clearer. If you’re facing something that requires more help than your friend can provide, then they can give moral support while you contact a professional.
Asking for help doesn’t mean you have a mental health condition.
There are many different mental health conditions and it takes an expert to make a diagnosis. A professional can help you understand what is going on and create the best treatment path for you.
Staying mentally healthy is closely tied to staying physically healthy. You can support your mental health everyday by:
• Exercise. Engaging in regular physical activity is an effective way to stay mentally fit. When you exercise, your brain releases hormones that naturally improve your mood. These are the same hormones that are targeted by antidepressant medications so exercise can have a similar and natural effect of antidepressants.
• Regular sleep schedule. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is important. Your brain releases a variety of hormones throughout the day and night that regulate sleep. When you don’t follow a regular schedule, these patterns are disrupted and your daily routine and moods are negatively impacted. Lack of sleep is linked to mental health problems, as is sleeping too much. Keep yourself on a schedule for the best effect.
• Balance. Everyone takes pride in working hard towards their goals and achieving success. Hanging out with friends, reading a book, or being creative are also worthwhile activities. Relaxing and “down time” is an important part of staying healthy.
• Limit social media. While there are benefits to staying connected online, there are serious downsides too. The world that appears on social media isn’t real. Don’t compare your experiences of happiness, beauty, love, and success to those crafted online.
• Connect with others. Relationships with friends, classmates, coworkers, and family members are necessary for a healthy life. While these relationships have their ups and downs, the connected emotions are part of what supports us through our most difficult times.
• Be human. No one is perfect. We all have flaws and we all make mistakes. Everyone has done things that they’re embarrassed about or regret. Learning to accept, apologize, and move on is part of life. Mental health conditions are more common in those who internalize their emotions or take things very personally.
Life with a Mental Health Condition
Many of us misunderstand mental health conditions. You might think being “mentally ill” means you don’t, or can’t, have a normal life. This us untrue. All sorts of people have mental health conditions, and people with mental health conditions lead all sorts of lives. Your mental health condition doesn’t define you. It’s just one part of your life.
Having a mental health condition may make certain parts of your life more difficult, but like any medical problem, there are experts who can help. Everyone who cares about you wants you to have a full and rewarding life.