What Parents Should Know About Mental Health Awareness Month

By: Kathleen Shumaker, BSW – Youth Education Services Specialist, Interact

Hello WELL Parents!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and even thought the month is almost over, it’s important for parents to know how to best care for their children. Teens can suffer from the same mental illnesses that affect adults, but they may look much different in teenagers. Teens may also suffer from mental health disorders as a result of abusive relationships.

Break the Cycle, a national teen dating violence agency, estimates that 1 in 3 teens are in an abusive relationship. That is higher than the 1 in 4 adults who suffer from dating violence. Violent teenage relationships are very similar to adult relationships, and follow many of the same patterns. Often, verbal and emotional abuses are downplayed as ‘not as serious’ as physical or sexual abuse. Alternately, victims and friends may struggle to understand how emotional and verbal abuse is used to manipulate a victim. These types of abuse can leave a lasting impact on a victim’s mental health.

According to Break the Cycle, emotional abuse is a series of “non-physical behaviors” such as “constant monitoring, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.” Emotional abuse is really any tactic used to influence how a person thinks or feels, particularly about themselves. Emotional abuse takes many forms, such as the ‘silent treatment,’ using guilt, blaming the victim for problems, or constant and sudden mood swings. Healing from this type of abuse takes a long time.

Verbal abuse is also non-physical, and can include threats, insults, name-calling, and belittling. However, verbal abuse is not just what you say, but how you say it. Tone, word-choice, and volume can all be used to abuse a victim. Think of all the different ways you could say “I’ll see you later,” and all the different intentions they might imply.

Victims of abusive relationships are more likely to suffer from depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, and PTSD. For teens, lower self-esteem, cigarette, drug, and alcohol abuse, and depression are common. Break the Cycle also reported that teens may have persistent memories about particular events and general feelings of hopelessness.

So what can you do as a parent? Be supportive and non-judgmental. Telling your teen to “just get over it” or “suck it up” will not help, and could further deteriorate their mental health. Let them know you will always be there for them and are willing to help. Educate yourself about warning signs of mental health disorders and dating violence. Familiarize yourself with all the resources available. Above all, let them know that what happened to them is not their fault.

InterAct is located at 1012 Oberlin Road. Have questions about dating violence? Our crisis line is 919-828-7740 and is available 24/7. Break the cycle can be found online at breakthecycle.org or by texting “loveis” to 22522 to speak to a peer advocate.

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