How Can Teens Improve their Mental Health?
As teens grow up, they find themselves in a simultaneously more exciting and challenging world than ever before.
As their bodies and minds mature, they are faced with choices about who they want to become, what path in life they want to pursue, and how best to take care of themselves. This can be a thrilling time for them and those around them who care about their wellbeing.
However, it can also be stressful and overwhelming – especially when teens feel like they don’t have adequate support around them, don’t know how to ask for support, or simply need some extra guidance on how best to manage their lives at this stage in their development. It’s important that teens have guidance and help from the adults in their lives;, parents, leaders, mentors and educators.
How does mental health affect teens?
Mental health is a crucial component of teens’ wellbeing as it affects how they perform and feel in a school setting and has wide-ranging implications throughout their lives. Mental health problems are common among teens, with the most common conditions including depression and anxiety disorders followed by attention deficit, autism, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress. They can affect a teen’s ability to learn and make friends, cause relationship problems and lead to physical and emotional symptoms.
Possible causes of increased mental health breakdown
Our basic needs as a human being are to feel safe, loved and of worth. When those conditions are not met or we have the perception that they are not met, it can lead to thoughts, emotions, and physical symptoms that do not support our wellbeing and forward development.
Contributors in this breakdown of the above listed most common conditions can be a state of overwhelm, overscheduled, exposure to abusive or bullying relationships or conditions, comparison, and thoughts and emotions that we don’t know how to control or shift. Add to that being in a world that seems to be going through some unfamiliar and quite frankly scary times and our stability is rocked. This can cause us to focus on the difficulties of the past and can bring on depression. When we hyper focus on the fear or uncertainty of the future, it can bring on anxiety. Without the skills to stay in the here and now, the present, we use valuable brain resources and energy that take us emotionally into places that undermine our ability to thrive.
How parents can help promote mental health
Being there for your teen in times of stress and ill health is vital to helping them resolve or work through their issues. While teens are in a period of growing independence and self-reliance, it is essential that they feel they have a safe place to turn to where they can receive support and assistance. This can be as simple as being willing to listen and range through taking steps to alleviate schedule pressure and other proactive steps.
Teens are bombarded with information on cellphones, but not all of it is good or enriching. Teaching precaution and parameters around the use of technology can help them learn awareness. Studies tell us that our teens will experience more than 300 negative impressions of themselves during the school day and depending on their cell phone use, it could be even higher. We now have a world where comparisons or bullying come right to your phone. There are groups of enlightened adults and teens that are uniting to delete many of the apps that create comparison or that can deliver a message and then disappear. You can listen in on what teens are saying that have taken some empowered stances around their technology.
Being aware of changes in your teen can help you see when you need to lean in and offer more support. Changes could reflect in mood, withdrawal, sleep problems, coping skills, eating habits, excessive anger, inability to concentrate and more.
How does academic stress affect mental health?
Many students experience academic stress, and this can have profound effects. Notably, academic stress has been shown to be a leading cause of mental health issues. In a traditional educational format, not only are there academic pressures, but social and emotional pressures. The learning environment in which your teen finds themselves is replete with triggers, tries and fails, and growing experiences. Without an atmosphere of nonjudgement, assistance, support and encouragement from teachers and counselors, teens can struggle to find their worth during a critical time of molding their identity.
What educators and facilitators should know
Educators and facilitators are in an important role when it comes to helping teens improve their mental health. As the ones responsible for providing activities that allow teens to engage with their peers, you can help create a welcoming environment where they feel comfortable sharing and talking about their feelings.
Class discussion talking about the mental health challenges can encouraging teens to open up and realize that they are not alone in their issues. In this vein, it can also be beneficial to provide positive role models who can show the teens what it looks like when someone is struggling with their mental health or feeling depressed or anxious. These individuals can also provide insight into how they overcame these issues themselves so that the teens know there is hope for them as well.
Activities to improve teen mental health
It is the duty of educators and other school personnel to support mental health in classrooms. Even tiny adjustments can significantly affect someone’s ability to feel better and feel safe.
1. Provide a place to vent
It is sadly still the case that teens experience prejudice when discussing mental health issues, and so increased awareness can help to encourage them to open up about their struggles. To let teens realize they’re not alone, bring up the topic in classes and assemblies and observe awareness days (such as World Mental Health Day).
Have an open-door policy with a counselor or teacher where they can discuss any problems or worries. Ideally, this individual will be knowledgeable about mental health and able to assist. Teens need a release valve and a place to process what they are feeling or not feeling. Teachers, and facilitators can be amazing mentors for teens when they feel safe, not judged and that their feelings matter.
2. Set up a Wellness Week
Plan a wellness week in your school to truly put student wellbeing at the forefront.
Doing this can allow for various relevant activities and promotes discussion between teens, facilitators, and educators. You may also invite organizations focusing on mental health to speak at your school – it’s worthwhile to ask parents to attend so they can gain valuable knowledge about supporting their adolescent(s).
Skill building experiences could be teaching mindfulness, meditation, and the powerful use of breathwork to change a person’s state of mind. Educate students on the use of the 988 phone number in the United States for those needing immediate suicidal help. Engage students in art therapy sessions, journaling, and ways to alleviate and recognize stress. This just may end up being your students favorite and most impactful week.
3. Organize social clubs
Promoting the formation of lunchtime clubs dedicated to hobbies and pursuits (e.g., drama, baking, reading, film) will allow students to relax and focus on something other than the stresses they may be experiencing in their lives.
Social support groups can also be anti-bullying and anti-suicide. Clubs such as HOPE squad raise awareness and teach coping skills while building a network of support.
Service clubs are powerful, a win win for both involved. There is no better way to get a dopamine hit than from seeing the impact you can have on serving others.
Promoting Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing
Mental health is essential for all teens, and many factors can exacerbate and result in poor mental health at this stage of development. Educators and facilitators can help improve their students’ mental health by providing opportunities to increase their resilience, build self-esteem and self-efficacy, and develop healthy communication skills.
If you are in a school district where we have Level UP facilitators, we would love to come in and help you teach the skills of breathwork and meditation as a tool to help control anxiety and stress. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we can support your school assemblies, afterschool programs, homeschooling coops, and your personal family.
Get more ideas for teen mental health helps.
For more ideas and activities that parents, and educators can facilitate
watch episode #48 or access the podcast Know Brainerz Empowering Possibilities through apple, google or Spotify.
We here at Level Up teen want to help. There is a battle out there with mental health and we have the tools to give your teens the solutions for the challenges facing them today.
Understanding our brain is one step in the process of empowerment. Having adults that want to lead them on a journey is invaluable.