May was Mental Health Awareness month, but just because it's now June doesn't mean that mental health issues go away. Current research indicates that approximately 20% of teens are impacted by a mental health issue in some way. In my experience, students who request mentors at school frequently relate concerns about experiencing depression and anxiety themselves or are impacted by mental health issues of a parent or close family member.
We often experience a feeling of shame or stigma associated with mental health concerns. I have always believed that something we can do to help our teens is “normalize” these concerns and make it safe to discuss mental health treatment and support in the same way we would talk about a medical need. If I am diagnosed with cancer, I would take chemo. If I found out I had diabetes, I would take insulin and be careful with my diet. There would not be inherent shame in getting treatment with either of these scenarios. Why is it different if I experience depression or anxiety? It shouldn’t be.
Mentors have a great opportunity to help shift the thinking of a young person in these types of situations by encouraging students to talk about their needs and support getting help or treatment as a positive step in taking care of oneself. Many of our volunteer mentors have experienced difficult situations themselves and survived! Being an example of resilience to a young person can help them believe they can be over-comers as well and that they can learn skills and develop tools for dealing with difficulties. Talking to a trusted adult can be the first step in reaching out for help, and mentors can help connect students to other resources.
I wasn’t at all surprised to see that recent research shows mentors may be the first person to spot a mental health concern in their interactions with a student. Developing a trusting relationship, having a listening ear, and giving emotional support to a teen goes a long way in strengthing their mental health or getting help when needed.
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