By Susan Parmelee
You may be seeing a lot of bright green ribbons this month. These ribbons honor Mental Health Awareness Month, with this year’s theme being More Than Enough.
Our team of professionals at the Wellness & Prevention Center (WPC) notes that among the youth we work with, there is a pervasiveness of feelings of not being good enough and young people who share the belief that they are not enough.
- Not getting good enough grades
- Not being good enough at sports
- Not being good enough at being a friend
- Not being good enough at taking care of themselves
- Not being a good enough child
None of us is born with this type of thinking; it evolves over time from experiences and the associated emotions from these experiences.
This negative self-talk can contribute to symptoms of depression, anxiety, disordered eating, and suicidal thoughts. The teen brain is very busy developing the prefrontal cortex, and these thoughts can become quite overwhelming rather quickly.
So, what can the adults who care for young people do? First and foremost, we can be empathetic listeners. The most important skill in empathetic listening is to place value in what you are hearing, as opposed to denying the young person’s emotion.
An example would be:
Young person: “I am so stressed out; I will never do as well in school as my older brother.”
Adult: “That sounds like a difficult way to feel”—not “You are just as smart as your brother.”
By holding the emotion of a young person, you allow them to process their feelings. The next step would be to offer support: “Is there anything I could do to make you feel better?”
Teens are very adept at talking themselves out of negative self-talk and distressing situations and discovering a new perspective.
Red flags that negative self-talk is becoming symptomatic of mental health disorders include:
- Changes in sleep or appetite
- Decline in self-care (stops showering and/or caring about appearance)
- Loss of pleasure in activities they used to enjoy
- Any forms of self-harm
- Change in friend group
- Substance use
- Lower achievement at school
- Increased levels of anger and/or irritability
Parents/guardians should consider asking your pediatrician to complete a mental health screening for your child at each year’s wellness check. Most pediatricians follow the American Academy of Pediatricians’ guidelines and are ready and willing to provide these screenings.
These screenings are equally as important as immunizations, dental checkups, healthy eating, and regular exercise. If you think something is wrong, notice any of the above red flags, or just sense something is off, consult with your primary care provider or a mental health provider (we are always happy to field your questions: firstname.lastname@example.org).
The WPC provides prevention and mental health treatment services on secondary school campuses in San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, and Aliso Viejo, via telehealth, and at our community clinic in San Clemente.
We provide prevention education through our bimonthly e-news webpage, virtual and live education events, and through our website, wpc-oc.org, and we partner with other mental health providers and youth serving organizations to bring mental wellness resources to a larger audience.
We meet with youth in the community and at schools to help them gain knowledge about supporting their mental well-being and making healthy choices.
Susan Parmelee is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and executive director of the Wellness & Prevention Center: wpc-oc.org. She can be reached at email@example.com.