What Do Teens Really Think About Having Mental Health Challenges?

What’s it like to be a teenager when it feels like your emotions are getting the best of you? Maybe you have seen a psychologist or psychiatrist and have a diagnosis, or maybe you just don’t feel right, like all the other kids who seem so balanced, so happy.  Maybe you’d like to know if other teens have similar feelings, and how they would describe what it is like to have mental health challenges. That’s why a group of teens came together to write the book Just a Thought.   The idea was that this book could help their parents, teachers, and friends understand what it is like to have mental health challenges, by telling what it is like, in their own words.

Just a Thought was researched, written, designed, and edited by teens of the Wellness Committee at Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto, CA. The goal of the book is to provide a kind of road map for a teen’s journey through mental illness, giving voice to teens dealing with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, and OCD so we can all understand what it is really like.

In the book, teens share how their mental health concerns are often misread as overreacting, making up excuses, laziness, or just a “phase” that will pass.  Just a Thought offers a new perspective: teens share that support means something different to everyone. Here are a few ideas teens shared in the book about what makes them feel supported.  Can you relate?

Check in with me.”  It’s hard to share. But you want to share. But then you don’t want to share. It’s so confusing! Even if what you say is awkward or imperfect, saying something is usually better than saying nothing.

“Always offer to listen without pushing too much or prying.” Don’t ask too many questions. Those you do ask, make sure they are open-ended, to invite someone to share more. Disguising criticisms as questions isn’t allowed!

“Don’t question my experience.” Saying, “everyone goes through it,” or “you’re making a big deal out of nothing,” minimizes your experience and is not helpful, particularly if you’re feeling isolated and very different.

Be OK with what I am going through and do not judge me for it.” Don’t you hate it when people try to talk you out of your feelings? One thing that helped teens was finding a “safe space” where you can feel accepted, whether that is an adult, a therapist, a friend, or a journal. 

“Get me help.”  Some teens talked about how relieved they were when parents or other adults made it possible for them to see a therapist. It validates their experience as real and important.  It provides hope that healing is possible. 

It’s time we see mental health as just as important as physical health. Mental health challenges affect one out of four youth in the U.S, according to the Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, so you are hardly alone! Speaking up and asking for help, even if it is hard, is not only OK, it is essential.  And don’t forget the wisdom other teens have shared in Just a Thought and let people know what kind of help really helps.

Just a Thought is available through Children’s Health Council or by inquiry via the following email address: justathought@chconline.org