Parents are the first line of defense for noticing when their kids are struggling with mental health issues. But overwhelmed and stressed parents may miss the warning signs that their kids are in trouble. Just in time for Mental Health Month, suicide prevention expert Dr. Mark Goulston shares six mental health questions parents should ask themselves today.
It's no secret that there is a mental health crisis in today's youth. Depression and anxiety are rampant, and suicide is now the second leading cause of teen death. Suicide prevention expert Dr. Mark Goulston says parents are the first line of defense for recognizing suffering in their kids. But when parents themselves are overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed, they can miss warning signs that their children are at risk.
"It's hard enough for parents to pick up on their teens' suffering under the best of circumstances," said Dr. Goulston, co-creator and moderator of Stay Alive, a new 75-minute video/podcast documentary, which is available on YouTube (#StayAliveNow) and features suicide survivor Kevin Hines and suicide prevention advocate Rayko. "But when parents are immersed in their own stress and inner chaos, their kids' problems are much harder to detect."
On top of that, Dr. Goulston says when parents have no more psychological room for pain and anxiety, they may engage in a "don't ask, don't tell" game with their teens.
"Parents avoid asking how their teens are really doing, because their plates are already full," said Dr. Goulston. "If parents asked and got an alarming reply, they would have to drop everything. It's not that they don't love and care about their kids. They just don't have time to deal with it. Meanwhile, teens don't want to burden anxious parents (or confront their own pain) and so they suffer silently."
Dr. Goulston says the first step to being more available for your kids is to improve your mental health. And since May is Mental Health Month, now is a great time for a mental health check. These six questions can help you assess your own mental health:
In the past week, have you felt overwhelmed and thought, I can't handle any additional stress?
In the past week, how often have you felt overwhelmed with no room to listen to more upset? (Rarely, somewhat, frequently, constantly)
In the past week, have you felt alone in handling all the responsibilities you have and stress you feel?
In the past week, how often have you felt alone in handling all the responsibilities you have and stress you feel? (Rarely, somewhat, frequently, constantly)
In the past week, have you withdrawn from the people around you because you couldn't take any additional stress?
In the past week, have you felt guilty or ashamed at not being the patient, listening, and compassionate parent that your child needs and you want to be?
If you answered "yes" to any of the above and are feeling too overwhelmed, Dr. Goulston recommends finding someone you can talk to that will help you feel some relief, and make room to be able to listen to your child's hurt, fear, anger and pain. If you have no one to talk to, consider keeping a journal. Your feelings are important too, and writing them down will help you process some of what you are experiencing and feeling.
"You owe it to yourself and your kids to become your very best self today," concludes Dr. Goulston. "And when you're in control of your mental health, you can really be there for them and help them thrive."
If you or someone you love needs help, call 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or visit: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Dr. Mark Goulston is the co-creator and moderator of the suicide prevention documentary Stay Alive. He is a former UCLA professor of psychiatry, FBI hostage negotiation trainer, suicide and violence prevention expert, and one of the world's foremost experts on listening. For more information, visit Dr. Goulston's website at www.markgoulston.com.