Turning the mental health system upside down (Opinion)
NJ high school counselor and 'The Goodness Chick' Erin Lawler Patterson is our guest contributor this week. If you would like to be a guest contributor and write a post for our website, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
By: Erin Lawler Patterson
Being a teenager in today’s world is tough. It isn’t what it was five, 10 or 15 years ago. Anxiety and depression are skyrocketing among our middle school and high school population. I believe there are different contributing factors including excessive use of cell phones, decreased coping skills and a society that is enabling rather than empowering. Kids are falling through the cracks and the need to realign our focus and means of support is vital.
What does this look like?
First off, at home it’s laying the groundwork for personal communication and minimizing screen time. When kids' brains are in constant stimulation mode by social media (Instagram, Snap Chat stories and texts) it triggers anxiety while decreasing their personal social skills. Have them turn their phones in at the end of the night. There is no need for buzzing of texts and posts at 2, 3 and 5 a.m. It’s craziness.
Second, chat with your kids on a daily basis. Even if they’re coming home after practice, eating dinner and spending the rest of the evening studying make room to see how their day was. Ask questions that require more than a yes or a no. With social media, our kids ARE losing grasp of how to have basic one on one engagement. When communication skills suffer, the ability to verbalize what may be feeling off or the need to reach out to someone is often curbed. They don’t know how to ask for help. We need to teach them that help is not only a good thing, but it’s something that we’re comfortable with and support.
Third, let them hear you say that if they are emotionally struggling counseling is ok. It isn’t a punishment. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with them. They just need to do some mental ‘spring cleaning.’ If we attach negatives to counseling they will meet it with a negative. Let them know that keeping things in balance is important and a key to this can be introducing counseling.
It’s ok to network when it comes to finding a counselor, ask family members or friends who they have used and who they’ve liked. If finances are an issue there are programs like Perform Care that can offer sliding scale or even free counseling for an allocated period of time.
Be involved if medication is recommended. I always recommend a psychiatric evaluation as a way to have you or your child diagnosed prior to doling out medication. Know that meds impact everyone differently. If you’re not seeing a difference in the span of time your Dr. provided, touch base with your doctor. Not every med will fit. That’s ok. Be aware of what they’re taking. It’s ok to ask questions. Advocate for your kids, you’re the best support and voice they have. We can hesitate in feeling like we’re questioning our Dr’s authority or decision. Our Drs are knowledgeable, but there’s a pattern of many being too quick to prescribe a medicine without asking enough questions and really knowing a little more than what’s shown on the surface. Fighting for our kids is one of the best things we can ever do for them.
Parenting is tough. Toss in mental health and it can seem daunting. Keep fighting for them, asking questions and knowing that our voice and support does make a difference.
For current trends with addiction, challenges kids are facing and a source of daily encouragement hop on Goodness Chick’s FB Page or tune in to my weekly Goodness Chick Podcast. Raising kids is the best (and craziest) gig we’ll ever have, we weren’t meant to go at it alone.
Peace, love and goodness!
— Erin Lawler Patterson, The Goodness Chick
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