Helping Teens Navigate Mental Health

Anxiety and depression among teens are at an all-time high, largely because of social media and technology. Before smartphones, children and teenagers used to go to school and deal with bullying and social pressures for six to eight hours a day, Monday through Friday. Now, with the advent of social media and ample access to screens, there is no break. The pressure to be liked and accepted on social media is unrelenting, 24/7, because kids are constantly connected to their phones and social media.

In addition, serious themes like teen suicide featured in the Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why”, are being discussed often and openly between teens. In part due to the success of this series, suicide is a reality that kids are exposed to in online chat rooms, web pages, and entertainment programs. Not only are they seeing it visually depicted throughout the media environment, they are also able to look for it specifically through online searches. When information like teen suicide is presented so frequently to kids in the form of Hollywood entertainment, and they are already struggling with mental health issues, suicide attempts, suicide ideation and suicide deaths tend to increase dramatically.

“Working in the emergency department at Randall Children’s Hospital, we are frequently the initial point of contact for many patients and families dealing with mental health issues,” said Zoe Orcutt, pediatric social worker. “Teens are experiencing higher anxiety, stress, and depression due to social media and social programming that addresses heavy issues without the correct support they need to understand it. Because of this, teen suicide has increased substantially over the past few years.”

Unfortunately, many of these topics are either avoided or not discussed honestly by parents. Often, parents are afraid to even say the word “suicide.” With the upcoming second season of “13 Reasons Why”, there is a national push to educate, support and provide ample resources to teens and families in crisis. So, what can parents, caregivers, teachers or caring adults do to support and/or prevent mental health emergencies with our teens?

  • Talk with them about suicide. Don’t be afraid of the word “suicide” or how it affects those left behind. Be honest and listen.
  • Keep teens active in extracurriculars. If kids are participating in sports or after-school clubs or activities, they are not only doing things that make them feel good about themselves, they are connecting with other kids without being on social media.
  • Establish mutually agreed upon rules prior to buying technology. For example, what time is reasonable to turn in the cell phone at night, what social media platforms are allowed and what restrictions are put in place to keep your teen safe.
  • Model healthy technology use for your teens. If they see you on screens, they will be on screens.
  • Encourage healthy support systems and relationships. Get to know the people your teens spend time with and look for opportunities for positive role models outside of the family unit.
  • Be present. Whether it’s at school, a faith community, or even in your home, do things with your kids in their different environments.
  • Watch with them. If your teen asks to watch “13 Reasons Why” or another program with similar themes – watch the show together to provide context or have follow-up discussions to touch on major issues.
  • Seek therapy. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help for your teen. Be willing to attend with them and be part of the solution.

“The most important thing a parent can do for their teen is to be open about mental health,” said Orcutt. “Talking to them, as well as listening, will not only prevent teen suicide, it will allow for earlier support for your teens.”

For more information on local resources available for teens and their families, please visit Lines for Life, YouthLine, a peer-to-peer youth crisis and support service dedicated to preventing substance abuse and suicide in Oregon.

Lines for Life: 1-800-2738255 or text “273Talk” to 839863. Teens can also talk to other teens by calling 1-877-968-8491 or texting “teen2teen” to 839863.

If you or someone you know might be experiencing a behavioral or mental health crisis, dial 9-1-1 or contact the mental health crisis line in your area:

  • Multnomah County – 503-988-4888
  • Clackamas County – 503-655-8585
  • Washington County – 503-291-9111
  • Clark County – 360-696-9560, 800-686-8137
  • Columbia County – 503-397-5211 or after hours 1-800-866-1426
  • Marion County- 503-585-4949

Crisis lines are available 24/7 and are staffed with mental health professionals that can help provide support, crisis assessment, and access to further resources. Some counties also have mobile crisis teams that can provide on-site support. Services are provided regardless of insurance or age and interpreters are available.

For information on teen mental health see these mental health warning signs.

For more information contact Ashley Stanford Cone at astanfor@lhs.org

By Ashley Stanford Cone

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