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Susan Pamelee

By Susan Parmelee

Teenagers often tell me they do not believe that the adults in their lives are capable of or willing to talk about mental health. Oftentimes, I dispel this belief by challenging them to try bringing it up with them. This often opens up meaningful dialogue.

However, I would like to suggest to all adults out there that you initiate “The Talk.” At the Wellness & Prevention Center, we believe this so strongly that we developed a Public Service Campaign (funded by the Orange County Health Care Agency) stressing the need to have The Talk.

In the U.S., one in five adolescents lives with a mental health condition and less than half receive the support they need. Many young people report that they are afraid to ask for help, that their concerns are ignored, or that this is “just part of being a teenager.” 

These reactions show that there is a gap in understanding the mental health challenges young people face.

Unfortunately, this gap in understanding and a prevailing culture of silence lead to a stigma surrounding mental health symptoms and results in fewer young people getting the help and support they need.

This leads to more serious mental health diagnoses, crisis situations and suicide. The aim of the campaign is to help both parents and teens get the support they need to have open and honest discussions about the stressors and very real mental health symptoms they experience.

Talking to teenagers is tough; there are many important topics adults need to discuss with the young people they love.

Because of the challenges that youth are facing, the mental health talk should take top priority. Sadly, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for 10- to 19-year-olds in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Knowing that 22% of people between the ages of 13 and18 will experience a mental health or substance-use challenge every year, the National Council for Mental Health reports, it is important for youth to have safe places to discuss their questions and concerns about their mental well-being.

It is the responsibility of all adults in our community. This is a big ask, but here are some tips for adults:

  • Practice “The Talk” with some of the other adults in your life.
  • Remain curious and open to queries from youth about mental well-being—listen to their questions and ask them what they think.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Empathize with their feelings and behaviors; do not minimize their emotions or encourage anyone to “move on.”
  • Be open to a conversation on the young person’s schedule. Often, teens start a conversation when you are not prepared, but try to take advantage of these openings.
  • Finally, rely on some excellent resources such as Mental Health First Aid; American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; and the Crisis Text Line at 741741. And when any life is at risk, please call 911.

The Wellness & Prevention Center is here to help as well. Please feel free to reach out with any questions you may have about supporting healthy teens. 

Susan Parmelee is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director of the Wellness & Prevention Center: wpc-oc.org. She can be reached at susan@wpc-oc.org.

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