May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This story is part two in a series on mental health and teens.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chattanooga is part of a national network of organizations dedicated to changing children's lives by matching them with caring adults to guide them on a path to success. Because of their critical role in influencing youth of all ages, we sat with Tina Franklin, community-based director, to learn more about what issues are affecting teens today and what’s being done as positive influences.
What are you seeing right now affecting teens’ mental health?
Tina: Unfortunately, we’re seeing lots of depression. Many parents are seeking medication for their teens to aid with depression. Even worse for some, self-harm and suicide attempts are more prevalent than you might think. Both boys and girls struggle with eating disorders as well, usually related to body issues. Cyberbullying is another major problem that we see a lot, which of course can lead to an unhealthy emotional state.
Where do you think these issues might stem from?
Tina: Definitely social media. Teens today are fully digital natives; they don’t know a world without connectivity. What that does is expose them to forums of judgment and shame when they aren’t really mature enough to navigate it yet. For instance, teenage girls are seeing Instagram models with unrealistic bodies and lives that make it hard for them to remember what’s real and what’s not. Boys are affected similarly, too. No matter who you are, social media can give you the sense that your life doesn’t measure up to others’ – and that’s hard for teens to process because they’re typically not confident in themselves like adults are.
What are some positive things we can do to help teens reach good mental health?
Tina: At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we try to be present in the lives of youth as an additional positive adult influence. We help them focus on their positive traits and attributes. We praise their accomplishments. We help them get exposure to and take interest in new things. We can be an escape for them from their phones and the non-reality of social media and remind them of what’s real and what’s possible.
What advice would you give a parent/mentor on how to help a teen who might be struggling?
Tina: Don’t write behaviors off as a phase or think they’ll just go away – because they won’t. Don’t be distant, but rather be proactive and talk to your teen about anything they’re feeling. Let them know you’re a person they can trust. Also, don’t be afraid to seek medical attention for your teen. You can start the conversation with your pediatrician any time.
What advice would you give a teen who is struggling with mental health?
Tina: Know that you’re not alone and you don’t have to go through this alone. Get help. Find an adult you can trust – maybe a teacher, a mentor, a friend – and be willing to let them help support you.
If you or someone you know is facing mental health challenges, use these resources to get help: