Feeling blue? It’s natural to have mixed emotions as we’re all cooped up at home. It’s not just you—the teens in your life may also be struggling with boredom, loneliness, and disappointment, along with anxiety over the possibility of catching the illness, and anger at parents and guardians for enforcing social distancing. As we near the end of Mental Health Month, it’s a good reminder to reflect on the ways that we can continue fostering good mental health for ourselves and the young people we know and love. Read on for some topical advice on the best ways to support your teens during difficult times.
Psychologists suggest that accepting and labeling our emotions is much healthier than avoiding or repressing them. Encourage your teens to express feelings however they feel comfortable, including talking to someone they trust. Parents, friends, teachers, and other relatives can help to ease the emotions by allowing them to not keep it all bottled up inside. For more serious issues, professional mental health providers can be lifelines to help them work through those emotional and mental struggles.
Many young people find solace in expressing their feelings through the arts. Journal writing, drawing, painting, sculpture, songwriting, poetry, and listening to music are healthy ways to deal with pent-up emotions. During times of isolation, they can also focus inward to find hidden talents that may have been pushed aside from busy schedules. Explore online lessons to learn how to play guitar, sketch, paint, cook, dance, and endless other possibilities. Or, look into sewing, knitting, mask making, or language programs.
Engaging family members in group activities can help reduce the loneliness of social distancing. We’ve found board games like Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, Scrabble, Clue, Kings Cribbage, Carcassone, chess, mahjong, and Ticket to Ride to be stimulating and interesting for teens and adults alike. Pass the time with card games—spoon, poker, hearts, Uno, or gin rummy, anyone? For teens who could use a break from all that family time, reading, coloring, putting together crossword puzzles, playing with Legos, and gardening are solitary pursuits that can calm and amuse.
Self-care should include exercise and time outside. Yoga, tai chi, walking, and meditation can bring one’s spirits up. Tenting in the backyard, making s’mores, and singing around a campfire can create the sensation of being away to the cabin or summer camp.
Random acts of kindness and service towards others helps one get their mind off their own troubles. Service-learning can still be done while safely sheltering at home. Volunteering has been shown to improve one’s mood, lower stress, and boost health. Explore opportunities that align with your teen’s interests, which can include tutoring younger children in math and reading, starting a fundraiser for a worthy cause, getting involved in politics, being a pen pal to senior citizens, making gifts for friends and family members, bringing groceries to a house-bound neighbor, cleaning up litter, or organizing a food drive.
Although too much screen time can be unhealthy, technology can be used with positive results as well. Nurture social relationships online. Multi-player online gaming can be a way for some fun with peers. You can find support groups online for sharing emotional struggles and finding others who understand.
Finally, if your teen is experiencing feelings that are overwhelming, remember you can always reach out for help. The following support numbers will offer a caring person who can help you and your teen negotiate a mental health crisis.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for free 24/7 support. Call 1-888-628-9454 for support in Spanish.
- Crisis Text Line Text “MHFA” to 741741 for free 24/7-crisis counseling.
- Lifeline Crisis Chat Visit crisischat.org to talk online with crisis centers around the United States.
- The Trevor Project Call 866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678 for mental health support specialized for the LGBTQI community.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
Deborah Cavitt – Deborah is an advocate, trainer and project director for Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health (MACHMH). MACMH is a non-profit statewide organization providing education and advocacy for both parents and professionals. Deborah works with schools, children, parents, and professionals to educate and advocate in order to increase understanding and reduce stigma related to children’s mental health disorders.