KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — May is Mental Health Awareness month. Many parents struggle with how to better understand their child’s mental health and offer support when needed.
The school year is wrapping up and soon your teenager will be out of the classroom and holed up in their bedroom. Peninsula Behavioral Health Psychiatrist Dr. Patrick Jensen says this is the time to open up communication with your child.
“So with a middle schooler or a teenager, I usually bribe them with food or I recommend bribing them. So, you bring in their favorite, whatever it is, you know if it’s an entrée or dessert or a favorite beverage. You bring that into the room and oftentimes, middle schoolers and teenagers like to hibernate in their room. So you have to go to them.”
Jensen says the casual interaction in their place of comfort may help open up dialogue. When they do relax and confide, take care of how you respond.
“It’s really easy for us to say, well, I was once a child, I can understand this or understand that. Oftentimes that will go over like a child, then just watching. They might be going through something unique, right? It may not be something that we can relate to as parents to say something like, ‘Well, no, that must be very difficult. I really may not understand what you’re going through, but I really want to so I’m here to listen.’”
The end of the school year brings on a lot of challenges and anxieties for kids. Exams, thoughts of missing friends at school or starting new chapters in life. This is the time for parents to be watchful.
“Sometimes, sleep disturbances can occur early on whenever someone’s mental health declines. If they’re always tired and go to bed early, sleeping in much later than typically do, that’s another thing to recognize. It could be the sign of some mental illness and if they stopped eating or eating a lot less.”
Sometimes what you see may lead to asking tough questions — like if your child is having thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
“If they [parents] are concerned about their child’s safety and welfare, just ask them directly. ‘Sweetheart, are you having any thoughts or wanting to self injure or hurt yourself,’ and see if they’ll open up now. Sometimes they’ll just be quiet and that could be your answer.”
And that’s when it’s time to take action.
According to Peninsula, “many support groups coordinated by Peninsula Behavioral Health Counselors are free and currently offered virtually. There are groups for individuals facing recovery from substance addiction, codependency, and other mental disorders as well as those who need help managing family or relationship issues.” More info can be found at by clicking this link or by calling 865-970-9800.
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Tennessee statewide crisis line at 855-CRISIS-1 or text *T-N* to 741-741 for 24-hour help. The McNabb Center also has a crisis line that can be reached at 865-539-2409.