Mental Health and the Back-To-School Transition
By Emmett Wells, LCSW, Clinical Director at Embark Behavioral Health in Greenwood Village, CO
The back-to-school season marks a significant shift in the lives of children and young people. As students return to the structured academic year this fall, they not only face the demands of coursework but also the responsibility and social pressures. Amid the ongoing youth mental health crisis in the United States, it’s crucial for families to communicate and lean on each other.
This transition can bring both positive and negative effects. It offers opportunities for growth and learning but can also trigger mood swings, heightened anxiety, and depression in young individuals. To effectively support adolescents during this crucial time, parents and caregivers must adapt to the unique challenges their children may encounter.
Active Listening and Relationship Building
During this back-to-school transition, active listening is crucial. Parents and caregivers should be prepared for conversations that might be challenging for their children. This could include discussions about academic stress, social dynamics, or personal struggles.
By actively listening and creating a safe space for dialogue, caregivers can nurture a secure caregiver-child relationship. This relationship provides a foundation for adolescents to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns without fear of judgment. It’s within these safe spaces that young people are more likely to open up about their struggles, making it easier for parents to provide the support they need.
Cultivating Positive Habits for Youth Mental Health
Positive habits play a pivotal role in the mental well-being of anxious or depressed youth as they return to school. These habits not only help in managing academic and social responsibilities but also serve as valuable life skills. Establishing routines that incorporate healthy practices is an excellent starting point.
These routines can include consistent sleep schedules, balanced nutrition, and regular exercise. Such practices contribute to physical well-being, which, in turn, positively impacts mental health. Encouraging children to participate in after-school activities aligned with their interests and passions can foster a sense of community, providing much-needed emotional support and a sense of belonging.
Moreover, dedicating time to develop coping skills is essential. Adolescents should be equipped with effective strategies for managing stress, anxiety, and other emotional challenges. This can include mindfulness exercises, deep breathing techniques, or seeking professional guidance when necessary.
Parental Engagement and Adaptability
Parental involvement in a child’s education is a delicate balancing act. Encouraging independence while offering support can establish healthy boundaries without becoming overly involved. As adolescents grow and develop, their needs evolve, and so should the level of parental involvement.
One of the first steps in this process is anticipating these changes and establishing open lines of communication with schools and educators. This enables parents to access available mental health resources and create a collaborative environment that promotes their children’s well-being. Flexibility is key; parents should be ready to adapt to the changing dynamics of their child’s academic and social life.
Addressing the Challenge of Teenage Depression
The rising prevalence of teenage depression is a concerning trend. However, parents and caregivers must understand that resources are expanding to meet this challenge. The first step is engaging in open and empathetic conversations with adolescents about their mental well-being.
Parents should create an environment where their children feel comfortable discussing their emotions and struggles. Sometimes, just knowing that someone is there to listen and understand can make a significant difference. However, when depression or other mental health issues become more profound and persistent, seeking professional help is imperative.
Therapeutic options, including counselling and medication, are available to assist adolescents in managing their mental health challenges. Parents must be proactive in seeking such support when needed, just as they would for any physical health concern.
By actively listening, nurturing a secure caregiver-child relationship, and promoting positive habits, parents can empower their children to navigate the academic and social aspects of their lives with confidence and resilience. Additionally, maintaining flexibility in parental involvement and addressing teenage depression with empathy and professional support are essential steps in ensuring the overall well-being of our youth as they embark on this new school year.
About the author:
Emmett Wells, a dedicated licensed clinical social worker and Clinical Director at Embark Behavioral Health in Greenwood Village, CO, has spent years providing invaluable support to individuals navigating the complex terrain of mental health. His journey began at Centennial Peaks Hospital in Louisville, Colorado, where he served as an intensive treatment unit social worker. This role allowed him to work closely with individuals contending with severe and persistent mental illnesses, as well as adolescents grappling with depression and suicidality. His mission was clear: to help clients manage their mental health symptoms effectively, enabling them to transition to lower levels of care with confidence.
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