How to talk to your teenager about mental health during lockdown

Over the past two years in Australia, we’ve seen many statistics emerge about the pandemic’s impact on mental health. Lifeline, Beyond Blue and Kid’s Helpline all reported increases in their services being accessed. The ABC also reported that over half (51%) of young people now report feeling anxious most or all of the time. With the uncertainty of the future looming and the overwhelming amount of negative news, now is a crucial time to check in with our teenagers.

If you’re asking yourself, “How do I talk to my teenager about mental health?” you’ve come to the right place. Having this discussion with your teenager may sound awkward or overwhelming, but we must take the time to reach out and check in with our loved ones so they can lead safe and rewarding lives. Read on to learn how you can get the conversation started with your son or daughter about their mental health.

1. Prioritise your own mental health. 

Prioritising your mental health is essential for providing good examples for your kids. If you’re honest about your emotions and the challenges you face, asking your teenager to get in touch with their mental health will be a far less daunting request. Make a conscious effort to live mindfully, regulate your emotions, hold compassion for yourself and practise regular self-care.

It’s never too late to set up good habits to prioritise your wellbeing. Download YourCrew to get in touch with your moods and your support network.

2. Make a plan of approach. 

Getting a teenager to discuss their feelings openly will depend on their nature and personality. You know your child best, so we recommend making a ‘Plan of approach’ considering their demeanour, routine and tendencies.

If emotional conversations are confronting for your child, you could plan for the discussion to take place during another activity, such as driving, helping out in the yard or cooking. These activities require less eye contact and ensure conversations have an “end time’, which can help relieve a lot of pressure.

If your teen often feels anxious or nervous, plan an easy activity for after the discussion to help them relax and bounce back after any emotional exertion.

3. Start the conversation

Sometimes the most challenging part of a difficult conversation is just initiating it. Just as we recommend planning this conversation in consideration of your teenager’s needs, make sure you’re addressing your own as well. Plan this discussion for a time when you know your mood is stable, and you can be fully present and engaged, as this will ensure that you can provide the help and support your teenager could need.

4. Validate their feelings and address their concerns. 

It can be challenging to open up to someone, and it’s no different for a young person. If your teenager has decided to share with you, it’s imperative to validate their feelings. Even if the issues they’re facing may appear minor to you, try to remember that the emotions your teenager is experiencing don’t feel insignificant. All emotions are valid and require space and respect to be processed safely.

Depending on the individual circumstances, some helpful things you could say are: “That sounds like a terrible thing you have been through”, “I understand why that would make you feel this way”, or “I’m here for you to talk to whenever you need”.

5. Communicate and reassure them.

No two teenagers will communicate the same way, however, every child deserves to feel heard and loved. So it’s crucial here to let them know you’re here for support and to help them. Encourage your teenager to workshop possible solutions and show them you trust their ability to resolve life’s problems.

6. Get them the help they need (with their input!)

If you’re not sure how to appropriately assess the situation, check out our Pathways to Help for guidance. Depending on your son or daughters’ individual circumstances, it may be time to seek out professional help. Gently ascertain how they would feel about this, taking into consideration their wants and desires. Australian citizens are entitled to subsidised sessions with a mental health professional through Medicare. To get the process started, speak to your doctor for more details.

7. Look after yourself.

As mentioned earlier, it’s vital to set a good example of mental health hygiene for your kids. This is why we recommend being mindful of your mental state before and after emotional interactions. If the conversation leaves you feeling drained and exhausted, make sure to schedule in some extra self-care time, treat yourself with compassion and check in with your support network on YourCrew to talk it out.

What if they don’t want to talk to you?

Your teenager may not be able to share their thoughts and feelings with you – which is okay. Puberty can be a challenging time while discovering life’s complexities, so it’s important to hold compassion for both yourself and your child during these times. Each relationship will be different and requires a personalised approach. If your teenager won’t share their feelings with you, and you’re concerned about their wellbeing – we recommend getting in touch with your GP or a mental health professional. Seeking professional help from an expert is not only a healthy example of self-care, but also provides insightful and objective advice for your family.

If your teenager doesn’t want to share their feelings with you, know that they can still talk about them! They could tell a sibling or cousin – someone close and understanding. Part of the reason we developed YourCrew was to make sure that every young person has a Crew – people they can turn to when things get rough, and people who can check in on them from time to time. Everybody deserves to have a crew.

Starting a discussion around mental health can be awkward, but it gets easier with practice. When in doubt, remember to do these three things:

In short: help them, help themselves. The more we have this conversation with our loved ones, the more we can reduce stigma around mental health, and help those who need it most.