Suffield Local Prevention Council

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p11_n55_SPLC_LogoIn today’s day and age adolescents and teens are bombarded by social media, television shows, music, news articles, and a multitude of other factors that influence their view of the world. As a result, adolescents and teens can practice unhelpful thinking styles such as: mind reading – assuming you know what the other person is thinking about you without having any evidence of truth; mental filter – only paying attention to certain types of evidence or noticing your failures but not seeing the successes; personalization – blaming oneself for anything that could go wrong or everything that goes wrong;  and black and white thinking – seeing things as one extreme or another, either everything is good or everything is bad.

Sound familiar? That’s because these unhelpful thinking styles carry over to adulthood as well. Taking care of one’s mental health and thinking style is just as important as taking care of one’s physical health yet these are topics not discussed enough. So how do we cope? How do we help our children cope with the everyday realities of comparison, unhelpful thinking styles and the unpredictable world we live in?

First know the signs of depression both for your children and for yourself. These include, but are not limited to: drastic changes in eating habits and sleeping habits, loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable, frequently irritable, feelings of worthlessness and guilt. Secondly, seek help! That means knowing your resources. Connecticut has a 24-7 hotline that is reached by dialing 211 which can link you to the closest mental health agency in your area.

Talking with your children about mental health does not need to be a taboo subject. Some tips include: offering genuine support; be gentle, but persistent when concerned if some of the above symptoms are exhibited, listen to what they are saying without lecturing and validate their feelings (“I hear what you are saying” or “I can relate”), and again seek help for your child. Just as we treat broken bones with a hospital visit we can help our children and ourselves cope with mental health issues by seeking appropriate support.

In seeking appropriate support, coping skills will be learned, medication assistance may become an option and consistency in treatment will be key. Examples of coping skills include but are not limited to mindfulness techniques such as meditation, emotional awareness tools for identifying and expressing emotions, crisis planning including a contact information list of supports and resources in times of distress, self-soothing through grounding exercises and one of my personal favorites – a coping toolbox.

A toolbox is primarily thought of as an object where tools are stored to fix things. In this case, a coping toolbox is to help an individual cope when they are feeling anxious or distressed. The items symbolize things that are positive in that individual’s life such as photos of family members, a notebook or journal, stress balls, a card from a supportive person or a favorite quote.

Mental health is a topic that needs to continue to be addressed. The more mental health is talked about with adolescents, teens and adults the more likely it will be that we can all cope, together.

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