Culture of Caring

Getting Teens to Talk about Mental Health

Do your teens talk to you freely about their feelings? Their mental health? Most parents would say their teens hardly talk to them at all. It seems that our children are more likely to share their secrets and emotional turmoil with their friends as they get older. So maybe the best thing we can do is understand that it’s normal, offer guidance, and help teens build their own positive support systems.

Teenagers today are dealing with more stress in their lives than ever before. The pandemic served as a trigger that unleashed too many demons, leaving children and youth wondering how to cope with their fears – even if they couldn’t identify them as anxiety, depression, or some other mental health disorder.

Few teens have the knowledge and experience to handle extreme stress and solve problems entirely on their own, let alone deal with suicidal ideation. But if they won’t talk to their parents or other trusted adults, who can they turn to?

Fortunately, there are options. All of them involve finding or creating an environment where teens feel safe and comfortable enough to talk about their feelings out loud. Talking about it is one of the most important steps in dealing with any crisis.

Training teens willing to serve as advocates for their peers has proven to be an effective approach. With the right tools, they can share strategies like problem-solving, coping tips, meditation, and breathing techniques. Meeting in small, casual groups with adult counselors or facilitators in school or church settings allows teens to open up and share their personal stories in a safe environment. These meetings should be structured enough that they are scheduled at regular intervals, and each participant has an opportunity to speak up and talk about the things that bother them.

Teens in this church group learned how they are all connected. Talking about their mental health out loud helped them find support from each other. The Teenage Suicide Prevention Society offers another approach. Schools in your area may provide peer counseling and mentoring programs that can help. Sources of Strength is one of the most well-known.

To find opportunities for teen support groups in your area, contact your school counselor, a youth pastor at your church, or search online.

A Culture of Caring: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Schools (K-12) was created as a resource for educators who want to know how to get started and what steps to take to create a suicide prevention plan that will work for their schools and districts. It is written from my perspective as a school principal and survivor of suicide loss, not an expert in psychology or counseling. I hope that any teacher, school counselor, psychologist, principal, or district administrator can pick up this book, flip to a chapter, and easily find helpful answers to the questions they are likely to have about what schools can do to prevent suicide.

Theodora Schiro