On Youth Mental Health Day Expert Shares Tips on How to Speak to Teenagers About How they Feel

A LEADING mental health expert has offered her advice on how to best talk to young people about mental health.

Addressing the issue on Youth Mental Health Day, author and counsellor Lynn Crilly said: “The difficulty in separating and identifying a mental illness, especially in a teenager, is that teenagers can seem reluctant to openly communicate with those closest to them, thus making an accurate diagnosis quite challenging and difficult.

“Confronting them head-on and throwing specific questions at them, such as ‘Do you have a mental illness?’ or ‘Have you self-harmed?’ may be counter-productive, causing them to clam-up, run away or shout back. Instead, creating an environment where they feel trusted, safe and respected is much more likely to help them open up.

“This means making mental health a subject that you talk about little and often. It is just as important as physical health and if we can begin to talk about it in the same way as we do other illnesses it will not be pushed to one side and get worse. It also means that youngsters are less likely to bottle it up because they will not have fears about how you may react.”

Lynn continued: “There will be times when you have specific issues to address and where and when you to do this is up to you but choose a place to talk where they feel relaxed and unpressurised. Some parents find that a car journey can be a good place to conduct tricky conversations, allowing youngsters to talk without the full glare of their parents’ attention on them. Adults too may feel more at ease than they might do facing their teenager over the kitchen table or in the naturally defensive environment of the teen’s bedroom. Talking on a car journey also makes it harder to slam doors or storm out.

“Wherever and whenever you decide to talk, start the conversation without accusation or assumption and try to ask open questions rather than homing in on specific issues. This might mean opening up the conversation by saying something like “You have been very quiet lately…is something troubling you?” or “You do not seem yourself recently, is there anything wrong?”.

“It is important not to judge your teenager, even if you do not necessarily agree with what they are telling you. Even though your mind may be racing and your heart hammering, it is important to stay calm. When they are looking to you for guidance, showing panic will only unsettle your teen further. Perhaps you can share a situation in your own life where you felt worried or stressed to show them that their feelings are understandable and natural.

Lynn became a counsellor after one of her daughter’s, Samantha, fell into the trap of Anorexia Nervosa and OCD, at the age of 13. She explored every avenue and source of help, but they were not right.  Lynn felt she had no option but to educate herself and learn as much as she could about eating disorders and mental illness. Here, to mark Youth Mental Health Day, she shares a poem about dealing with peer pressure.


Peer Pressure

By Samantha Crilly

I have never really fitted in with the ‘norm’

Though I spent all my teenage years feeling under pressure to conform

I worried so much about what everyone thought of me

I failed to be truly happy

I felt like I was uncool because I didn’t do what the ‘it’ girls did

I couldn’t possibly just say I’m staying in tonight, GOD FORBID!

I would sit and watch a movie which I should have technically enjoyed

Yet I was too busy thinking I should be at all the places I’d tried so hard to avoid

And even if I did go, I never enjoyed it anyway

I just wish I could go back in time and tell myself its ok

Stop being paranoid about people wondering why you’re not there

Because the truth be told, most of them don’t really care!

They are too busy living their own lives to be that worried about you

So make sure you pursue whatever you want to do

and to be whoever you want to be, because

that is the only way you will ever be truly free