Mental health is a serious issue among young people.

Mental health is a serious issue among young people.

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Talk to your kids

Get informed and talk to your children about mental illness, just as you would about drugs or sex

Navigating the teenage years isn’t easy. There’s peer pressure from friends, high expectations from parents, broken hearts and, of course, shifting from being a child to an adult.

But beyond all of this, there can be more deep-seated issues bubbling to the surface.

And for parents, trying to determine the fine line between traditional teenage angst and mental illness is not only challenging, but scary.

However, you don’t have to be alone.

“Don’t be isolated,” said Dr. David Smith, a local psychiatrist, during a public forum hosted by the Vernon Suicide Prevention Committee.

“Reach out to friends or family you trust, a school counsellor or a family doctor.”

The sign that mental illness may be present partly rests with behaviours occurring frequently, and not just one-time. Is it interfering with school or family life?

“It’s the loved ones who are the eyes and ears who are the first ones to recognize the changes,” said Jered Dennis, with early psychosis intervention.

A key thing is to get past the stigma society still attaches to mental illness.

“It’s not something we need to hush-hush. It’s something we need to talk about,” said Jenn Millan, with the Mental Illness Family Support Centre.

Reaching out to the individual is critical even if they initially respond with hostility or denial. But check any preconceived notions at the door. Dealing with mental illness is not as simple as slapping on a happy face or pulling yourself up by the boot straps.

“Listening to them is more important than talking. Don’t judge because we’re not living in their head,” said Maya Verkerk, with child and youth mental health.

Family support is vital but, obviously, it can be difficult for mom and dad to abandon their role as protector.

“Good support is caring and learning what is best,” said Millan.

“Finding the right people to talk to is important.”

That may mean accessing a third party who is independent of family dynamics, whether it’s a psychiatrist or a counsellor.  It could be calling the Interior Health Authority, the Mental Illness Family Support Centre, the North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society, the Family Resource Centre or the Canadian Mental Health Association.

And while parents cleaned up scraped knees and wiped sniffles when  the kids were small, mental health sees the relationship evolve with their teen.

“The most you can do is walk beside them. You can’t do it for them,” said Smith.

“Helping them find that strength in themselves is important.”

Don’t let mental illness influence how you perceive them.

“It’s not their identity,” said Dennis.

They are still your child, sibling, friend or neighbour, and they have worth and value. They have much to contribute not only to the family, but to the community.

Unfortunately, not everyone reaches their full potential and families are shattered. It’s a sad reality right here in the North Okanagan, and it’s one we can’t ignore.

Get informed and talk to your children about mental illness, just as you would about drugs or sex. But most importantly, love them and never take them for granted.