When we hear the words “mental health,” we often think of illness or disorders. Generally, conversations around psychological and emotional health happen most frequently when there are problems. In the case of girls, that might be low self-esteem, negative body image, and unfortunately the impacts of trauma. Fortunately, mental health can be addressed and improved in the same way physical health can be.
Girls today contend with countless pressures, stresses and potentially negative influences– poverty, domestic violence, bullying and sexual harassment, and unrealistic standards and expectations. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released troubling data reporting that more children and teens are thinking about suicide. In fact, hospital visits for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts increased 175 percent between 2008 and 2015.
Last month, Netflix released Season 2 of its popular series, “13 Reasons Why,” which explores the serious topics of suicide, rape, bullying and teen substance abuse. Season 1 drew widespread attention and ensuing conversation on its impact on young people. In fact, after its release in 2017, total searches for suicide-related terms went up 19 percent. For girls, access to information, resources and support can literally be life saving.
Parents and other trusted adults can help girls understand and embrace good mental health, including healthy stress management, to help reduce negative health consequences, including self-harm. This proactive, prevention approach to mental health gives girls the knowledge and skills to be active agents in their health and wellness. It prepares them for the realities they face and builds a foundation for their long-term wellbeing.
Here are 4 tips from our experts on how you can help girls adopt and maintain positive mental health.
Talk about stress
It is important for girls to understand that stress is a normal and acceptable part of life, and that positive or healthy stress management helps girls deal with the issues they face. Help girls identify personal warning signs/symptoms of stress and positive methods for releasing feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration.
Stand up against bullying
Bullying can cause lasting harm. Encourage children and teens to report if they are experiencing bullying or knows someone who is being harassed. Just as society does not expect victims of other types of abuse to “deal with it on their own,” we should not expect this from victims of bullying or harassment.
Push for safe and supportive schools
Schools can play an important role in connecting girls with the services they need, especially if school staff are trained to recognize the signs of trauma or other mental health concerns. Push for trauma-informed disciplinary practices and that your young person’s school is in full compliance of Title IX.
Stigma surrounding mental health can make it harder for girls to recognize or admit they need help. If you see or suspect something, no matter how slight it seems, share your observation with her. And never discount talks or threats of suicide.
You may find some of these resources to be valuable as you talk with girls:
- A comprehensive resource from the National Association of School Psychologists that provides tips for both educators and families, and discusses the importance of creating supportive environments for youth.
- A CDC article on the connection between bullying and suicide.
- Talking points for 13 Reasons Why from the Jed Foundation