May is mental Health Month and suicide is the second leading cause of teen death in the country. It is no secret that there is a mental health crisis impacting teenagers and overwhelming parents. Parents who are immersed in their own stress and inner chaos may miss the signs that their kids are struggling. We talked with Dr. Mark Goulston, co-creator of the documentary: Stay Alive, an intimate conversation about suicide prevention He says many families engage in a “don’t ask – don’t tell” strategy to cope with mental stress. "When parents are overwhelmed, and most parents are, teenagers pick up that they don't want to be a burden to their parents."
Dr. Goulston says when parents do pry, teens will often tell them “I’m fine”. Goulston has a strategy for that he calls: seven words "Hurt, afraid, angry, ashamed, alone, lonely, tired...pick one." He says this will prompt them to share how they are feeling and you have a platform to launch a conversation. Dr. Goulston also says parents need a self assessment to determine if they need mental support before they can be of use to their children. He urges parents to ask themselves the following questions:
- In the past week, have you felt overwhelmed with no room to listen to more upset? (rarely, somewhat, frequent, constant)
- In the past week have you felt overwhelmed and thought, 'I can't handle any additional stress'
- In the past week have you felt alone in handling all the responsibilities you have and stress you feel? (rarely, somewhat, frequent, constant)
- In the past week have you felt withdrawn from the people around you because you couldn't take any additional stress?
- In the past week have you felt ashamed at not being the patient, listening and compassionate parent that your child needs you to be?
If you answered yes to any of the above and are feeling overwhelmed, there are great local resources. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is has a strong local chapter and many all over the country with resources and education to help families with mental health.