What I Noticed While Talking to Teens About Mental Illness

Teen Mental Health

Last week I spoke to teens about mental health, like I’ve done dozens of times before. But this time it felt different. This was my first set of presentations since early 2020, before COVID-19 lockdowns.

I’m a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I present NAMI’s Ending the Silence program to middle grade and high school students. My co-presenter and I talk about the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those signs in themselves or a friend. We speak openly about anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders, and suicide.

So last week, instead of being inside a classroom with students and their teacher, we talked to them via Zoom. The presentations went great and I was so thankful to have the opportunity to meet with them. Technology can be wonderful!

But there’s nothing like actually being there with the kids, looking them in the eye, feeling that emotional connection and energy.

On Zoom, some of the students preferred not to be seen. Their cameras were on, but instead of a bunch of faces, I saw ceilings, bedroom walls, or a silhouette of a person. But that’s fine, I get it. It’s high school.

Even if I couldn’t see them, I knew they were there, listening. When I give these presentations, I never know who needs to hear what I say that day.

Through my computer screen, I could sense the kids were stressed and frustrated. Most likely some of them were anxious and depressed. There’s no doubt that distance learning this past year has taken an immense toll on students (parents and teachers too, of course).

At the end of our presentation, my co-presenter and I open it up to questions. We let the kids know they can ask us anything at all. We’re open books. Sometimes there’s only silence. Which again, I totally get. Mental illness is hard to talk about. Kids don’t want to be thought of as different. They don’t want their peers to think they might be struggling with a mental health condition.

A question at the end of one of our sessions last week broke my heart. Through an anonymous direct message, a student asked: If someone is thinking of attempting suicide, but isn’t really planning to do it, does that person still need to get help?

Our answer: YES. Talk to a trusted adult. A parent, teacher, school counselor, family friend, adult-age sibling. Tell someone you trust so you can get the help you need.

Another student wrote: How do you get help without your parents knowing?

Our answer: It’s hard to do that for a minor. Talk to an adult you trust. If that person can’t help, go to another. And another. And another. Until you get the help you need.

I pray they’re getting help. It’s rewarding to know that at least we opened the conversation.

While the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to weaken, there’s still a long way to go. My hope is that with future generations, mental health conditions can be spoken about as easily as physical diseases.

Keep talking about it.

The goal is to end the silence.

20 thoughts on “What I Noticed While Talking to Teens About Mental Illness

  1. It’s sad that the kid asked how to get help without their parents knowing which I basically I understand since I also felt that way back then. I felt like I’m going to disappoint them because I’m living a good life I have nothing to be depressed about. It’s so important to have a supportive family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true. And many kids don’t want to say anything to their parents because they don’t want to add extra stress for them. It’s sad when a child can’t figure out how to get help. Thanks so much for your comment!

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  2. Mental health is something that is being slowly destigmatized. I am happy that these teens had someone to talk to about their problems and issues. Ever since the beginning of the lockdowns the news keeps talking about how this is all affecting mental health for everyone. I hope that more people read this to know that they are not alone and that it is okay to talk about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much. I heard a statistic the other day that 1 in 3 people have a mental health issue, due to this past year’s challenges. That number is usually 1 in 4. And that’s such an important point you make, to know you’re not alone. It’s okay not to be okay. Everyone has struggles, many of which no one sees on the outside. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been thinking of volunteering with my local NAMI Chapter to do what you are doing and it’s very nice to hear what you have to say about doing it. I hope those kids that asked those questions took your advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I don’t think there’s enough dialogue on how this pandemic has further affected mental health in kids (which was already an issue to begin with), and it’s partially because we don’t share what their specific issues and needs are.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, this is just amazing. I mean to hear an adult talk about this in a way that is so understanding and respectful is just amazing. My blog is about trying to show us teens that mental health is a tough topic and it doesn’t make you crazy just because you struggle with your thoughts. Usually in schools, they do an assembly but it’s those ones that are no help at all, but to see that you are talking to kids in that kind of way is amazing and the fact some actually asked those difficult question shows how trusting and warm you must feel for them. Thank you for making a difference in their lives and I am gonna share this on my blog to show that there are actually people that care. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your kind words SO much! Thank you. I’m passionate about raising mental health awareness, especially to teens. I wish that when I was in high school, I would’ve seen a presentation such as this. Maybe if I did, I would’ve reached out for medical help much earlier than I did for my panic attacks. Kids need to know it’s okay to talk about their problems, and that everyone is struggling with something. Even if you can’t see it on the outside. Thanks again for your wonderful comment! I’d love to follow your blog, but when I clicked on your name/site above, it took me to ‘Sarah’s Cupcakes’ and it has posts about computers, from 2018. Do you have an updated site? Thanks! It’s great to connect with you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • No problem. You just gotta give people the recognition they deserve. Also I am not sure why it brought you to that page. The link to my blog is periodts.com if you would like to follow my blog. I would appreciate that so much

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: What I Noticed While Talking to Teens About Mental Illness — Peace from Panic – Periodt.

  7. Jeni, what you’re doing is so important. Whether in person or on zoom I’n sure the advice, support and guidance you’re giving these students is absolutely invaluable. Our young need all the understanding and emotional support they can get. Kudos to you my friend. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: What I Noticed While Talking to Teens About Mental Illness | Peace from Panic – briansmentalhealthtips.wordpress.com

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