Conversations about Mental Health
Mental health and illness, especially with teen and tween girls, have been a “Bruno”–until recently people didn’t talk about them. There’s been a stigma around them, so people avoided even mentioning them or didn’t get help because they felt ashamed. But the more conversations we have about mental health and illness, the more comfortable we’ll be talking about them, recognizing signs, and getting necessary help. While I’m not a licensed mental health professional and can’t offer a diagnosis or treatment, I can still discuss mental health as a girls mentor and coach, plus I have my own lived experience and I have witnessed others’ struggles, too.
If mental health or illness are unfamiliar to you, I encourage you to pause this episode and go talk to your parents or an adult you trust, even listen to this episode together. I also want to provide a content warning as I will be discussing anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide. If at any time you feel you’re in crisis, like you might harm yourself or others, get help immediately or call/text 9-8-8.
Mental Health + Mental Illness
First, let’s define mental health and mental illness. From the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.” So just like you want to be physically healthy, you also want to be mentally healthy.
From the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior, or mood. These conditions deeply impact day-to-day living and may also affect the ability to relate to others.” Mental illness can be caused by a few different things, such as genetics you inherited, difficult life experiences, or brain structure and biological factors.
While mental health and mental illness sound similar, they aren’t the same thing. You can have poor mental health or struggles without having a diagnosed mental illness. And you can also have a diagnosed mental illness but still be in good mental health.
Everyone has bad days here and there, or might stress out before a competition, presentation, or final exams week. That’s why it’s important to constantly care for your mental health (get enough sleep, move your body, practice self care and gratitude, enjoy hobbies, connect with people, etc.). But sometimes people’s bad days go on for weeks affecting their daily life and sleep, and they stop doing things they enjoy, and they’re constantly worried or sad most of the time.
If you feel this way, I need you to know,
you are not alone, this is not your fault, and you can get help.
Please talk to your parents, school counselor, or someone you trust.
Mental Illness Struggles
The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that 1 in 6 youth aged 6-17 experience a mental illness each year, but only half of them receive treatment. And in another report, compared to before the pandemic, twice as many people now are experiencing depression and anxiety symptoms, and it’s especially higher in teens and girls.
Because of that, I’m going to focus on those two mental illnesses, anxiety and depression.
There are multiple types of anxiety disorders and each has unique symptoms, but all of them include constant and extreme worry or fear of something or of something happening when there’s not an actual threat. Anxiety can look like:
- Worrying so much that it affects ability to function
- Fearing the worst will happen
- Afraid of going to places
- Nausea, dizziness, headaches, upset stomach
- Sweating, shaking, or twitching
- Breathing too fast, heart racing
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling tense and unable to relax
- Sudden overwhelming dread
Depression is more than just feeling sad sometimes. It is continuous negative thoughts and hopeless feelings. Depression can look like:
- Ongoing bad mood
- Deep sadness or guilt
- Less energy
- Trouble concentrating
- Changes in appetite
- Not enjoying activities or interests
- Body aches
- Can’t fall/stay asleep or sleep too much
- Lower self-esteem
- Thoughts of hurting self or of suicide
Self-harm and Suicide
About that, some people are afraid that talking about suicide will encourage it, but studies have shown that talking about suicide may actually prevent it and lead people to get help. So we’re going to talk about it.
People may get so overwhelmed or hopeless that they self-harm or even consider suicide–again, if you feel you’re in crisis or you might harm yourself or others, get help now.
So self-harm is when someone hurts themselves on purpose. People will self-harm as a coping mechanism, a way to deal with their mental health struggles or mental illness. But it’s not an effective way to help them deal with their emotions.
Suicide is when someone harms themselves intending to end their life, and they die. A suicide attempt is when someone tries to end their life, but they don’t die. Suicidal thoughts or ideation is when someone thinks about suicide.
The CDC reported that in May 2020, a few months into the pandemic, the number of kids aged 12-17 that went to the ER (emergency department) for suspected suicide attempts began to increase, especially girls. A year later, from mid-February to mid-March 2021, the number of girls aged 12-17 that went to the ER for suspected suicide attempts was 50% higher than it was two years earlier, prepandemic.
Per the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there’s a big difference between the number of young people thinking about suicide (about 1 in 10) and the number who die by suicide (1 in 10,000).
If you’ve had suicidal thoughts–there is help. Please talk to an adult you trust and get help from a mental health professional, like a counselor, therapist, or doctor.
Call or Text the National Suicide and Crisie Lifeline: 9-8-8 (available in the US)
If someone you know is having suicidal thoughts and isn’t in immediate danger, consider reaching out to them, talk in person if you can, to let them know you care and are concerned about them. Listen to them and encourage them to get help, like from the resources I shared. You don’t need to solve their problems, just be supportive. Also, don’t agree to keep it a secret. They need to get help, and if they refuse to, you can talk to your school counselor/adult you trust, or call or Text the National Suicide and Crisie Lifeline 9-8-8, because they will know what to do.
Help for Mental Illness
Now let’s return to anxiety and depression. There is help for those and other mental illnesses. The first step is to talk to someone who can connect you with a mental health professional, like a licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. They are trained to recognize and diagnose mental illnesses, and will be able to make a treatment plan to help. That plan may include types of therapy (like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), light therapy, brain stimulation therapy), medication, or physical activities. Just talking to a professional can make a huge difference.
I personally have experienced anxiety and depression, and I highly recommend therapy–it’s literally been life-changing for me.
Mental illness can impact tweens, teens, and adults. If you ever feel like your mental health is struggling, please talk to someone.
You are not alone.
There is help and there is hope.
A few books that may help are:
The Anxiety Survival Guide for Teens by Jennifer Shannon and Doug Shannon
Beyond the Blues: A Workbook to Help Teens Overcome Depression by Lisa M. Schab
The Anxiety and Depression Workbook for Teens by Michael Tompkins, PhD
The Mindfulness Workbook for Teen Self-Harm by Gina M. Biegel and Stacie Cooper, PsyD
Frankie’s Fishy Feelings by Quincy Kadin
And if you’re looking for a book that’s more specific to your sadness, I encourage you to check your local library — there are lots of books that can help with what’s going on.
If you have a topic suggestion, I’d love to hear from you! Send an email (tweens get the OK from your parents) to hello@EmpowerfulGirls.com .
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