here.now.

Teens’ Top Questions About Mental Health, Answered

Depressed teenager sitting lonely

My mental health organization, Here.Now. has been traveling around to teen programs for the past few weeks, allowing participating young people to put their mental health questions in a box anonymously.

We expected to max out around 15, and instead we had over 300 questions come in! Below, find the top 12 questions we were asked, along with our answers.

*For those reading this, if you are in crisis or danger, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also get help by texting the Crisis Text Line: text “HOME” to 741741.

If you want to be connected with services or programs, and it is not an emergency, reach out to Here.Now.

How do I tell somebody that my friend is really depressed or struggling, without making them hate me for betraying their trust?

This is a really tough question that we hear a lot. If your gut is telling you that you need to tell an adult what is going on with your friend, listen to your gut– it’s why we have them! If your friend has mentioned self-harm or is acting in a way that leads you to believe that they may hurt themselves or somebody else, tell someone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the weight of what they are telling you, tell someone. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Go to a trusted adult and let them know what is going on.

A favorite teacher, a parent, or a clergy member is a great place to start, and get advice about what to do. That adult can make sure that your friend gets the help they need. When possible, they can get your friend help without revealing that it was you who told them. But that’s not always the case, and your friend may be mad at first that you shared something private. We are going to be very blunt and say that you would probably rather your friend be mad at you for a few weeks than have your friend hurt themselves. Often once your friend starts getting help, they will feel relieved, and realize that you said something because you love them. It may take time, but if your friend is getting the help they need, that’s worth it.

How can I support my friend who is struggling with mental health?

First, know that you’re a good friend, because they are comfortable telling you about their mental health and being themselves in front of you.

Second, be present. Let them know that you are totally there to listen and help in whatever way you can. Don’t change the subject if they start talking about their mental health or illness. Sometimes when somebody is struggling, they push the world away a bit. Maybe every time you text your friend to hang out, they say no. Be patient. Keep inviting them. Let them know you love them unconditionally. Keep being their friend, even when it’s hard.

Third, make sure they are getting the help they need. Ask questions like, “Have you ever talked to anyone about the way you’re feeling?” If you feel like you can encourage your friend to get some help or to tell a trusted adult, go for it. But if you can’t do that without being pushy, or pushed away, have an adult try to get your friend help instead. Many people who are going through mental health challenges or a crisis are not ready to admit it or ask for help—so instead of getting frustrated, loop an adult in to help and just keep being a good friend.

Here are some great suggestions of supportive words to use from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance:

table

This is a hard question to answer. Ultimately, your doctor can tell you which mental illnesses are genetic, and which can occur randomly in anyone.

Somebody in my family has a mental illness. What are the chances that I will go through that as well?

Truth be told, there are some genetic factors in some mental health disorders. That being said, knowing that something exists in your family can also be a huge protective factor. For example, if you know that your parent or sibling has struggled with depression, you can start to keep tabs on where you are emotionally. If you feel like you are starting to show signs of depression, you can reach out to get support early on. If you have a parent or sibling who is an alcoholic, you could consider making the choice to never drink to numb an emotion, or to fully abstain from alcohol. If you know your parent or sibling is an addict, you should keep in mind that you may be more likely to develop an addiction, and decide not to even experiment with drugs. In these cases, knowledge can be power.

How can I bring up the conversation of mental health with a friend?

If you are bringing it up because you are worried about your friend, be honest. Name what change in behavior or emotion you’ve noticed, and how it makes you feel. Start with something like: “I noticed you haven’t been coming to soccer recently, and when I have seen you, you seem really quiet. I wanted to see if you are OK— how are you doing?” If your friend is vague, ask a different way: “I’m asking because you’re important to me. Is there anything you want to talk about that’s been going on lately?”

When you start this way, you’re not bringing up mental illness but instead just checking on a friend. If you think they need help, refer to question #1.

If you know that your friend has a diagnosis and is getting help but you want to see how they are doing, just ask them! You don’t need to be specific that you are asking because of their mental illness, but you should be clear that you are asking them because you really, really care.

How do I know if I am just sad or I have a mental illness?

Think through your day: is your sadness or anxiety affecting your ability to go to school, get your school work done, participate in your favorite activities, or be in friendships/relationships that feel satisfying? Do you feel a heavy weight on your shoulders, or like you’re walking through life in a fog? Do things that usually make you feel happy not make you feel happy anymore? Have you been thinking about hurting or even killing yourself? If so, let somebody know so you can take a step to get some support. We often think about mental illness as either you have it or you don’t, but it’s never that simple.

Many of us live our lives somewhere in the middle. Worry less about labels and more about getting back to a place where you are happy and able to live life the way that makes you feel happy.

How do you even define mental health/mental illness?

Mental health is defined in a lot of different ways. The World Health Organization has defined mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes their own abilities, can come with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.” Mental disorders or mental illness is a diagnosable illness that affects a person’s thinking, emotional state, and behavior as well as disrupts the person’s ability to work or carry out other daily activities and engage in satisfying personal relationships.

A mental health challenge is a broader term that may not be severe enough to warrant a diagnosis but means that someone’s life is affected in one or more of the ways listed above, and getting some support would be beneficial.

How do you recover from mental illness?

This is different for everyone, but it usually means that a person has gotten some professional help, and is starting the process of feeling better and feeling like they have improved quality of life. There is no “right” way to recover, since everyone is different, and many find the process of recovery to be a really empowering one. The important thing is taking a step to recover. That may mean going to therapy, starting medication, talking to a parent, working on a healthy lifestyle, or any combination of doing something to move in a positive direction.

How bad does it have to be before someone is hospitalized?

This is different for everyone, but if somebody has a plan to harm themselves or somebody else or has harmed themselves or somebody else, heading to the hospital or to their mental health professional may be the first step. Being hospitalized is not a punishment, but a way to make sure that a person can focus on recovery and get the best help possible. Being in a hospital is often helpful in that someone can get medication corrected (sometimes meds stop working the way they should), learn skills and behaviors to care for their mental health in the future, and to allow that person to heal and talk through what is making them have those feelings.

Think about if someone goes to the hospital because they are diagnosed with cancer. Being in the hospital is a safe space where teams of doctors can work together to help someone get healthy, give them the best treatment possible, and make a game plan for when they leave the hospital. The same goes for mental health— a hospital or treatment facility can be a great place to get everything back in check.

Does exercising actually help mental health?

A lot of people say things like, “Go for a walk, you will feel better!” This comes from the idea that exercising causes your brain to produce endorphins, which can make you happy while your brain is riding that endorphin wave.

While studies show that self-help strategies paired with professional help (if needed) can help young adults, we don’t know which self-help strategies are the most effective. So, see what works for you. If you are stressed before a test, go for a walk, get a massage, do yoga, or hang out with friends and pay attention to what helps you de-stress. The best way to know if something works is to try it! If you are facing a mental health challenge, “walk it off” is not great advice—but counseling paired with being outside on a beautiful day can have a positive effect.

How do I know if my friend is “just not hungry” or actually has an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are all different and complex— some include symptoms like not eating, while others include overeating, or eating regularly and then purging. Ultimately only a doctor can diagnose an eating disorder. If you’re concerned about a friend, compare their usual eating habits to their habits now. Has something changed? Are they eating a lot more or a lot less? Eating in secret or at strange times? Getting sick after meals? These could be signs of an eating disorder you may want to ask your friend about or tell an adult about—but sometimes people are just super picky eaters and don’t want to be rude, or have tons of food allergies, or just don’t feel comfortable eating in group settings. Check out this page for more info on eating disorders.

Do trigger warnings actually help? Should I use them on social media? How?

Trigger warnings were created as a way to protect readers from harmful content that may contribute to pre-existing mental health issues. It’s not just about someone being sensitive or vaguely uncomfortable— triggers as a concept were coined as part of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, to identify content that could trigger a memory, and cause issues like panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, and problems with concentration.

Trigger warnings don’t censor what’s about to be said. They create an alert about content in an article or conversation that could prompt traumatic memories if a person happened to experience something related in the past, and give someone a “heads up” so they are ready to hear it, or so they can choose to stop reading on social media.

You don’t necessary have to preface everything you write with “trigger warning,” but you can write “this article is about sexual assault” as a way to let folks know what to expect. That doesn’t mean censoring, it just means being aware of what a trigger could be for some people.

While we don’t know exactly how helpful these warnings are, since everyone is different, knowing what could trigger someone and being sensitive to it is a great tool to have as a mental health advocate.

What’s up with the stigma behind mental health disorders?  

I know, right?! The biggest misconceptions about mental illness are that every mental health challenge will lead to suicide, and that people with mental illnesses are crazy or dangerous. In reality, 20% of teens have some form of mental health disorder, which means that many people in your life are already living with mental illness. People with a mental health disorder are not “others,” they are your teachers, your friends, and your classmates. One of the best ways to reduce this stigma is to remind the people in your life that your mental and emotional health are just as important as physical health.

Some people consider their mental health challenges to be an asset. The staff at Here.Now. recently met with a powerful financial analyst at a huge firm who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). He cited that his OCD allowed him to catch a number discrepancies that others at his firm didn’t catch, which allowed him to move up the ranks at his job. He sees a therapist to make sure his OCD is manageable, and he also openly admits to appreciating that his brain works a little differently.

Most people who actively manage their mental health conditions lead great and fulfilling lives! The key is the word “manage,” which may mean going to therapy, taking medication, and just like you do a physical once a year for the health of your body, taking stock of where your mental health is on a regular basis and making sure to get supports in place, when needed.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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