The Adult Role in Youth Mental Health Treatment

When I was in grade 12 we had a special guest come into my Food & Nutrition class. While I forgot what the woman was talking about I do know that she made me feel safe enough to vaguely mention having issues with eating. A day or so later I was down at student services (for reasons I also do not remember) and saw a sticky note on the receptionist’s desk that said, “Kristen B, spoke of eating disorder in class.” I was HORRIFIED!!! Not only was a not speaking about having an eating disorder, this information was out on the desk for ANYONE to see. My first and last name! I spent the next few days scared that I would be called down to student services to be spoken to. This did not happen. Looking back, I am concerned that an adult would not follow up with me.

When you are a child or a teen you do not always know what is best for you. As much as young people like to keep secrets from adults, it is the adults that are still in charge of their safety. To have knowledge that a young person was talking about what they labeled as an eating disorder and to not follow up with that young person is careless. The role of adults in youth mental health treatment is to ask those tough questions (“Are you restricting your eating?”), letting them know you support them (“I am here if you need to talk.”) and set up the appropriate supports (“I can call in the school social worker to come and see you.”).

Adults cannot shy away because they are unsure of what to say, what to do or worse, do not believe that something is happening and blame hormones. Children and youth can’t do some things by themselves. They need adult guidance. This does not mean that children and youth are not consulted and adults should still respect their right to self-determination within reason. Children and youth need adults to be there for them so mental health issues can be prevented or lessened in children and youth.

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7 thoughts on “The Adult Role in Youth Mental Health Treatment

  1. I agree with you, but I think it’s also important to stress how a caring but uninformed approach can also backfire. A young teenage girl with a very complicated and unstable home life, constantly getting passed from family member to family member (and more than likely feeling very unwanted because of it), starts injuring herself, drinking, smoking marijuana, dating boys old enough to be illegal.

    No one pays attention but her two best friends, one of whom talks to her parents. The parents then talk to the girl, and while intentions were good and I’m sure frustration high, the father calls the girl an idiot. When you feel like crap about yourself, having that negative opinion reinforced is not what you need. Girl now feels she can trust neither her friends or adults.

    What does this girl do now? Unfortunately, only time will tell. The story is entirely too true, and this girl still is only a girl. If the parents cared enough to intervene, they should have cared enough to get someone who knew a little more about mental and behavioral health involved, someone who wouldn’t have gotten so emotional as well. But they had no idea.

    It’s a screwed up system, Kristen, and our kids usually can’t fight for themselves. I confess I don’t know the answer.

    • Oh yes of course! That has been my experience with most adults when I was a teen. They meant well, but they went about it wrong. Some adults are also not good people. It’s finding the trusted adult. The whole system and society needs to be revamped!!! Thank you for your comment Ruby! You’re right, it’s not easy.

  2. Ugh! That is really messed up. I remember when I was younger not feeling any sense of agency or ownership over my own labels & mental health treatment- it just seemed like a thing I was dragged along to by parents. It’s tricky to balance the rights & privacy and decision-making of youth with their safety, as well as the rights of the parents. I think it’s possible though, but it needs to be on the table to begin with as considerations.

    • Yes! “Dragged along”, that’s exactly what it felt like! The only reason I started treatment when I was 14 was because a friend cried to a teacher and then I took the help because I didn’t want to get in trouble. It is hard to balance and, from my own experience, parents struggle with keeping their child safe while respecting their privacy. My social worker explained this to my parents but also, I was quickly 16 and legally entitled to complete medical privacy. Having that sense of agency can be a very key part of recovery.

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