Twelve Talks to
Have With Teens
Mental health is a state of well-being in our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Teens, like all people, have good days and bad days.
- Some of us have a mental health condition like depression, anxiety or bi-polar disorder. Just like physical ailments, with treatment and support, a person can have good mental health while living with a mental health condition.
- Everyone experiences challenges. Stress, anxiety, distressing experiences, chemical imbalances, genetics and our environment can all sometimes create challenges to positive mental health.
- According to the CDC some key elements to healthy coping include: making time to unwind, taking care of your body, connecting with others, and finding ways to calm stress and anxiety. Download a short tip sheet about healthy coping for teens here.
- Seeking help when needed is a sign of strength. Teens and caregivers have a wide range of choices available to support mental health, including diet, exercise, professional care and medication. If the first thing you try doesn’t feel right, there are a variety of other options. The most important thing is to find an option (or options) that works best for your teen.
- Positive mental health allows us to feel good about life, supporting our ability to participate in daily activities and accomplish our goals.
What your teen wants you to know.
A message to you from Colorado teens. (1:31)
How can I be there for you?
What is one thing I could do to support you?
What do you wish I really understood about you?
What do you do when you’re dealing with challenges like stress or anxiety?
How do your friends handle mental health issues when they come up in their family?
What kinds of conversations do you and your friends have about depression?
Big question: what makes you hopeful about the future?
How to start a conversation
Ask open ended questions that cannot be answered with “yes,” “no,” or a just a single word.
- Instead of “How are you?” try “Tell me about your day.”
- Instead of “Are you okay?” try “Can we do something together?”
- Instead of “What’s wrong?” try “Looks like something is wrong. What’s going on?”
Look for mental health issues in the media. When you hear something on a show, a movie or a song that implies that people should “get over it” or “toughen up” when experiencing mental health challenges, ask your teen what they think.
- Ask them about the “below the surface” campaign. Send a text to your teen asking them what they think about this website and, if they are open to it, watch some of the videos together.
When a high-profile suicide happens, or if someone your teen knows, dies by suicide– talk about it. During high school, most teens in Jefferson County will experience knowing someone who dies by suicide or violence. It’s a common misconception that asking about suicidal thoughts will plant ideas; however, talking about suicide does not increase the risk of developing suicidal thoughts.
- Are you aware of helpful ways to phrase comments? Remember, challenges with mental health can’t be willed away. Resist the habit to tell someone to “snap out of it” or “get tough.” People brave enough to open up about those challenges aren’t merely seeking attention. Our own attitudes shape how we respond to others who come to us for help. Take the Let’s Talk Colorado quiz with your teen to help you both understand your own beliefs about mental health and mental health conditions.
- Are you making this too hard on yourself sometimes? The fact that you are there can make a world of difference. It’s ok to just listen. You don’t have to have all the answers! Your teen may want very specific help, which you can help them find, or no help at all. Either way, you can always ask and be open to the answer.
- Are you sharing your ups and downs, too? Ups and downs are a part of life! Talk about the stress and challenges you face, including how you cope with those challenges in healthy ways– and encourage your teen to talk with you about their challenges.
- Does your teen know where to go for help? Most teens do not. You might share this video with your teen with info about how they, or their friends, can reach out to Colorado Crisis Services when they need someone to talk to, even if they aren’t in a crisis. Ask them what might make either them or friends use the service.
Rules & Boundaries
- It’s important for us to know that just like we’re all different- therapists are all different too! You might not click with the first one you work with- that’s ok…try someone else! Wondering about what you starting therapy is like, click here to find out.
- Avoid using your teen’s coping strategies as a consequence. For example, you could avoid taking music away from your teen, if that is how they cope with problems.
Equity & Inclusion
Youth who are members of groups who currently face discrimination may have less access to sources of strength, including access to physical and behavioral health care or healthy activities when there are high costs or other barriers (such as transportation).
- Often people forget their employer is a good resource for mental health resources. Employer Assistance Program’s (EAPs) are not always limited to benefited employees and may cover all people in a household. In addition, EAP resources are confidential.
Unfortunately, many groups face stigma around treatment and disparities in access to treatment. If you are struggling to find or afford treatment, patient navigators at Jefferson Center may be able to help.
Taking Action in your Community
Reduction of risk factors, and improvements in protective factors, can happen on multiple levels– within an individual, among friends and family, by adjusting systems in places like schools or businesses, and on the policy level for towns, counties or states. When improvements happen on all levels, our teens are most likely to thrive. Here are some policy and systems you and/or your teens might be able to influence:
Jeffco Schools has made a concerted effort to provide mental health services, including social emotional learning specialists, mental health professionals, and suicide prevention resources.
- Ask your school what school health professionals are available to students and how students get access to these staff members. Ask your school what trainings staff have received in mental and behavioral health. Ask your school what suicide prevention programs they implement.
The social-emotional learning and health education students receive (including information about mental and behavioral health) varies by school.
- Ask your school how they are implementing health education for all students. Ask if the school knows about the district’s Health Education Policy and related resources. Ask/promote your teen to take a high school health education elective.
- Having data in our county on youth identity and behaviors helps to bring in resources and support for youth.
- Email the Jeffco Board of Education (see example letter here) to share your support for the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey and Healthy Schools Smart Source to get important information on youth needs in our community.
- Join your School Accountability Committee and ask about using non-academic data and information (e.g., health information, climate survey data, etc.) to guide school improvement efforts and plans.
* Healthy Kids Colorado Survey 2019, Jefferson County data; **Jefferson County CTC Youth Town Hall data 2019, 2020 & 2021.
This resource is maintained with funding from a Coalitions Organizing For Prevention grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and a Drug Free Communities Grant from the Centers for Disease Control. The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the grant providers.