A Dozen Ideas For Finding Support
I wholeheartedly believe that raising kids who can ask for help is one of the best resiliency skills we provide our children and teens. For some youth, asking a math teacher for help with a problem set can be challenging enough, let alone asking a person for help if they are going through an emotionally challenging time. The vulnerability lies in letting someone know what is really going on inside, as well as asking for help.
Meanwhile, for us parents, the digital age can add new complexities because when our teens aren't doing well emotionally, not knowing what is happening on their screens can feel really unsettling. Is there an intense issue happening with peers? Are they looking up information about what they are feeling that is making them worse?
This reality of screen time makes having a calm conversation about support that much more important.
In my medical practice, teens come to me experiencing hard emotions, such as depression, and tell me how they have not told anyone about what they are experiencing. I always feel this as a punch in my heart. To be suffering is hard enough — but to be suffering completely alone is just so awful. I gently respond, “I am so glad you came here today and that you told me.” As I say those words I can literally see relief come over their face.
I often think of the image of a teen in their room alone, curtains down, thoughts of worthlessness, and the teen and their parent/s feeling so isolated and confused about what to do. I have a dream that someday we will look back and say, "Do you remember when it was so common for teens in emotional pain to be alone in their rooms day after day? And that we actually accepted that, shocking isn't it?" Instead, teens would have wonderful support teams — people supporting them and the family in all sorts of creative and effective ways.
Seeking support can be incredibly daunting. For example, a teen might not like their assigned counselor, and the school won't let them change. Or, it is so hard to find a therapist with available appointments, without even knowing if they will be a good fit. Meanwhile, the cost of seeing such a therapist can be prohibitive.
I know first hand how challenging it can be to get mental health-related support. I have experienced this myself, as have many people close to me. I made mental health films addressing these issues and partnered with mental health organizations to use these films to advocate for needed changes. I will never stop advocating for the many improvements that are needed to truly help all people – young and old, and their families, as they work to overcome emotional and behavioral challenges.
Even though there are often hurdles, working to create support teams is essential. Those teams can come from all sorts of places, professionals, friends, family, colleagues, support groups, coaches, teachers, the list goes on and on.
In Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, I talk about how a team of teachers, counselors, friends, and family were all critical members of support for Tessa and me while Tessa was struggling with depression.
Part of our focus with Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER is creating more and more resources, and we are continuously updating our website with them. We want to provide some ideas and links here, but there will be more on the resources tab for Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER on our website.
Here are some ideas for support resources:
*As you talk with youth about this topic, it will be great to hear from them about what support resources they know of and who they talk to.
For both my teens, they were fortunate at times to have a school counselor they liked going to when they were facing challenging times. I highly recommend that we, as parents, encourage our kids to meet with their school counselor, even when all is going well, to start to establish a connection. That way, if things hit a hard place, they are more likely to go to them.
School Nurse, Health Centers, Social Workers
Sometimes the school nurse is really skilled at supporting students when they are having emotional pain — not just physical pain, or a cold or such that we think of when we think of the nurse. The nurse may have ideas for local resources as well. Many schools have access to social workers who offer helpful ideas and can be a wealth of support.
Finding a Person to help with Screen Time Issues such as Compulsive Video Gaming
Looking for a behavioral counselor can be helpful as well as a counselor or therapist. Behavioral counselors help clients develop new, more helpful habits while breaking other ones. Restart, an internet-gaming addiction treatment center in Washington state, has some names of people as a place to begin. The good news is that doing sessions over Skype is possible with many of these types of providers.
Often when there has been a lot of tension and fighting in the home over screen time, family sessions with a school counselor or therapist can be immensely helpful. Their job is to ensure that everyone feels heard in a calm way to set up small goals for everyone to work toward achieving.
Finding a Counselor or Therapist Outside of School
Psychology Today has an online tool where you can look up people in any city or by zip code. Sometimes looking at directories of professional groups can help such as American Depression and Anxiety or Association for behavioral and cognitive therapies.
Getting ideas from friends is incredibly helpful, especially if you have friends who are in the field or who have gone to people for support. Some people advise against going to the same therapist as a friend. But given how hard it is to find someone to see, I worry less about this issue. If it is a question of your teen going to someone who also sees his/her peers, then talking with your teen about this is important. The key is for the teen to understand that legally and ethically, the therapist would not share information with others, ie, their peers, etc.
When trying to see if the person would be a good fit, it is perfectly reasonable to ask that the person who would be going to be able to have a short call to assess if the therapist seems like a good fit. It is hard to tell over the phone and in a short time, but at least you would have a sense right away if it is a definite no.
It can be hard to know if the therapist is "a good fit." How to know if the meetings are making much of a difference? If, after a few sessions, the client has not gotten specific insights that have helped or has a few particular things to be working on, then talk with the provider and assess if it makes sense to return or speak with others, such as a good friend, to help you decide.
Churches, Synagogues, etc
There can be some incredibly gifted and supportive people in these communities. In many houses of worship, there are specific people trained to work with youth. The youth pastors, youth rabbis or youth group leaders are all great places to start.
Mental health organizations
Here are a few examples — and of course, there are many other great organizations.
NAMI is a wonderful organization that I have partnered with to do advocacy with some of my past films. Check out all they do. NAMI has local branches nationwide. They offer all sorts of support groups, and in fact, I used to attend one in Seattle when I was working on a film about my father, who had Schizophrenia, because I wanted to get support to help me process my complicated relationship with him.
NAMI has a great program called Family to Family. They also go into high schools to speak and much more. NAMI has a helpline at 800-950-6264.
For online information about children and teens, the Child Mind Institute has some unique resources. They did a month-long campaign called My Younger Self, where they did short interviews with actors, famous athletes, and others who faced challenging emotions growing up. To help with a discussion about these topics, watching a few of these shorts with your teen could be helpful.
These are free day-long courses designed to help parents learn how to understand youth mental health issues better and as a parent, things to do. On the website, you can find if there are classes near you.
This organization has affiliates across the country, has many programs, and also works to increase mental health access, locally and nationally. This page on their website is helpful for the nuts and bolts of finding mental health support.
This organization is a resource that many youth and adults report using and feeling helped. People who volunteer for CT receive 30 hours of training before they start, and they volunteer several hours a month. My good friend is a volunteer, and we spent an afternoon together where she showed me how their training works and examples of the work she does with people it was powerful. A person can text about anything they are struggling with, and the volunteers are there and provide supportive interactions. Even though it is called Crisis Text, the texter does not have to have an imminent crisis; they get all sorts of people seeking support for things like eating issues, problems with peers, and just people dealing with hard emotions.
I spoke with one of the executives at Talkspace, who told me they have more of an "active listener" model than Crisis Text. Their volunteers do not receive a lot of training and therefore do not engage in more complex interactions, but they do provide solid active listening, which can be helpful for some. The people at Talkspace are very dedicated, and they have many interesting offerings on their site, such as groups for parents, so it is worth checking it out.
In a future TTT, I will be writing more about online resources and apps that many teens use to deal with stress and to lift their moods — including some of the concerns of certain apps that we should all know.
Here are a few questions to get a conversation going with your youth:
If you are having an emotional time, is there a website or organization you go to? Have you ever heard of any of the ones listed above?
Who might you reach out to if you are having a difficult time? A school counselor? A school nurse? Your friends, a teacher, etc.?