Mental health is important to your overall health, regardless of age or gender. Mental illness can affect any community or family and should not be defined in just one way. There are many young women and girls who deal with a range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. One in six children, ages 6–17, experience a mental disorder each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Here are five things to keep in mind when considering the mental health of a teenage girl in your life:
1. Teach emotions.
Parents of young girls should start to tune in to their child’s mental well-being from the day their child is born. Teach your children about emotions, what they can do when they have big feelings and model positive behavior.
For example, you might say to your child: “I’m irritable today because I had a hard day at work. Let’s read a book together because that would help me feel better.” In this case, you are expressing what you’re feeling, the reason you’re feeling that way and demonstrating a positive way to handle your feelings.
2. Help with decision-making.
Mental health can affect a person’s decision-making skills. When someone is anxious, overwhelmed, angry or sad, it can be hard to problem-solve or know what to do to feel better. That’s why it’s essential to have a general plan in mind before the big feelings happen.
To construct a general plan, start by being aware of emotions and knowing that they’re all OK. The easy ones, such as being happy and excited, along with the hard ones, such as being sad, angry or nervous, all are important. We wouldn’t be human beings if we didn’t have an array of emotions. It’s necessary to have a plan for how to work through emotions when they happen. This could be talking with a friend or a trusted adult, listening to music, or performing physical activity like going for a run or a walk.
3. Watch for symptoms.
While there is no one way to prevent mental illness, pay attention to emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and be open to seeing a health professional. Sometimes symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, may manifest themselves in physical symptoms, such as headaches, muscle tension, or the inability to sleep or eat. Other symptoms can be withdrawal from friends and activities, significant tiredness or low energy, irritability, extreme mood changes of highs and lows, or excessive fears or worries.
4. Seek professional help.
Most mental illnesses don’t improve on their own, and if left untreated, they can worsen over time and cause serious problems. Talk to your child’s primary care provider or a mental health professional if you are concerned.
In addition to mental health care, children should receive routine well-child checkups with their primary care providers to rule out any underlying health issues that may be contributing to symptoms.
If you suspect suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It provides free confidential support 24/7 for people in distress, and prevention and crisis resources.
5. Take care of yourself.
Finally, take care of yourself. Get adequate sleep, eat healthy and find ways to be physically active. And encourage your girls to do so, as well. Programs such as Girls on the Run through the YWCA are a great way to help young girls be healthy and confident.
If you or someone you know might be experiencing a mental health crisis, please reach out to your parents or a trusted adult. Below are some community resources:
• Mankato Crisis Center/Mobile Crisis Team: 877-399-3040
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
• Crisis Textline: Text “MN” to 741-741