To Grow Up, Speak Up: A Guide for Teens Who Want Help
Being a teenager can be tough. Not only are you in some of your most formative years, but you are also gearing up for your next chapter. While this is a rite of passage that can be exciting for some, many are faced with the stress of making decisions that feel scary while also balancing the challenges of “right now.”
You’re likely feeling a lot of pressure to do well in school and extracurriculars while also maintaining a social life, exploring relationships, and keeping up with trends and other major parts of your daily life.
For most teens, “right now” feels like the weight of the world on its own. When you add “planning for your future” to that, it can feel nearly paralyzing.
Asking For Help Isn’t Always Easy
All of these pressures can build up and create feelings of overwhelm, stress, anxiety, and even depression. While some teens will feel comfortable asking for help right away, many others will struggle to do so and try to handle it on their own instead.
Stigmatization and Lack of Understanding
Addressing brain health, feelings, and emotions can feel scary. Many fear the stigma that surrounds mental health, and you may worry about being viewed as weak, dramatic, immature, or even painfully labeled as “crazy.” In some cases, teens are afraid to tell their parents because they don’t want them to disapprove or invalidate their feelings—especially if parents have done so before.
Unfortunately, brain health hasn’t always been openly discussed. Past generations, like your parents, grandparents, and beyond were taught to ignore symptoms and just “tough it out.” Thanks to the continuation of research, we now have a better understanding of the role that brain health plays in overall health, which has led to de-stigmatization efforts and higher prioritization of treatment.
While it doesn’t make it fair, it’s important to remember this as you may wonder why your parents aren’t being more receptive or validating your feelings. It’s possible that they are doing their best with what they were taught, and if you choose to talk to them, it can be a learning opportunity for both of you— bringing you closer as a result.
Access to Healthy, Trusted Outlets
On the other hand, it’s incredibly more difficult to ask for help if your family isn’t well-versed in emotions, vulnerability, or brain health. Not only will you feel hesitant about opening up, but if your family struggles financially, there is added stress and guilt regarding the cost of treatment or not wanting to “be a bother.”
Despite potential challenges at home, it’s okay to talk to other trusted adults. Teachers, guidance counselors, and other adult figures in your life are also resources and have likely experienced similar struggles.
To Grow Up, We Must Speak Up
It’s important to try your best to overcome the fears associated with asking for help. When we don’t have healthy outlets, it’s easier to turn to and rely on negative coping methods—like isolation, self-medication, substance use, and negative self-talk.
Asking for Help is a Sign of Strength
While it might feel cliché, you are not alone. Others are experiencing the same challenges, frustrations, and overwhelm as you are. In fact, in the United States one in six youths aged 6–17 experience a mental health condition each year, and 50% of lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14. The trusted adults in your life have likely been there before and may even be living with a diagnosis currently as one in five adults experience mental illness each year.
The misconception that asking for help is a sign of weakness is outdated thinking and can have dangerous outcomes. True weakness is being unable to admit you need help. When we speak up for ourselves and let others know how we are feeling, we can begin to acknowledge, understand, and seek solutions for the challenges we are facing. Even better, when we are vulnerable and honest with those close to us, we build strong, trusting connections that continue to be a source of support in the future.
It takes strength to speak up at all ages, but it is well worth it.
Tips for Reaching Out
In many cases, teens may want to reach out but aren’t sure how to start the conversation. Describing confusing and overwhelming emotions or thought patterns is hard, but as with most things: it takes practice.
If you are unsure how to approach your trusted adult about how you’ve been feeling, here are a few ideas on how to start the conversation:
- “Do you have a minute? I have some things I need to talk about.”
- “I’ve been feeling ___ lately, and I was hoping I could talk about it with you.”
- “Are you free to go for a walk? I have some things I want to share.”
Sometimes you might want to communicate more specifically about what you want from them.
- “I need to tell you about a problem I’m having. I just want you to listen right now, so you know what’s bothering me. I’m not ready for advice yet.”
Depending on the trusted adult you are speaking to, and what environment you are in, you might adjust things slightly so you can open up comfortably in a space you feel safe in.
Describing Your Feelings
Another challenging part of talking about things is figuring out how to describe them or name them. This is why professionals often use a to help identify different feelings.
If you’re struggling to name your feelings, it’s okay. The important thing is that you’re starting the conversation.
What Are the Next Steps?
Sometimes there is fear around speaking up because you don’t know what to expect after that. Teens don’t want to feel invalidated, but at the same time, nobody wants their vulnerability met by an overreaction. When you know what to expect and what that might look like, it’s easier to take action.
After talking to your parent or trusted adult, you might decide that you’d like to talk to a professional, too. This likely includes making an appointment with your family doctor or a therapist to get a better understanding and rule out potential diagnoses. This might seem scary, but for many people having a diagnosis is a relief. It is a turning point that gives you something to digest, understand, and relate to—which is incredibly validating. It also gives you a name for what you’re experiencing and better equips you to find solutions that work for you.
Treatment is designed to relieve or eliminate symptoms so you can lead a happier, more fulfilled life. Talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both are usually implemented to achieve this. You will never be prescribed medication without your provider walking you through the medication, how it works, and its potential side effects.
Remember: the sooner you make an intentional effort to improve brain health, build coping and communication skills, and learn what healthy boundaries look like, the better prepared you will be in the future. Because speaking up is a necessary part of growing up.
Are you interested in learning more about brain health? Explore some of our other blogs, too!