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AMA: This Week’s Topic: Advice For Parents, Guardians, or Mental Health Professionals Dealing With Teens Who Have Mental Health Issues

– If You Or Someone You Know Is Dealing With Mental Health Issues, Please Document Everything And Ask For Help If You Are Able. You Do Not Have to Suffer in Silence or Alone. There Are People Willing and Able to Help. –

Dealing with mental health issues is never easy for anyone, but when those issues are undiagnosed or alternatively extensive, it can be really hard to communicate with those you love, when you are trying to help, or even more so, trying to find help.

Every doctor, psychiatrist, medical professional, and especially mental health professional, will often chalk up what you’re dealing with to a diagnosable issue, rather than day-to-day stress, and that can confuse both the patient and the medical team trying to help.

This isn’t always on purpose, and sometimes it’s absolutely on purpose, finding out which can further confuse the patient and supporters, and muddy the waters preventing help from being readily available.

Here are some questions and answers that may help supporters better understand how the mental health world works, and how to navigate it for the best chance at success in dealing with mental health issues.

How Do I Know I Have a Verifiable Mental Health Disorder As Opposed To Day To Day Stress?

It’s really difficult to confirm any diagnosis and I know this because of the years (nearly 39 of them) that I’ve spent working with doctors from Calgary to Winnipeg and back to British Columbia. When I was arrested the cops thought I was psychotic, the doctor simply said it was a panic attack and I have the paperwork to prove it.

So you see, when it comes to mental health issues, because “mental health,” is such a baby science, it’s really difficult to know if it’s a chemical disorder, or an emotional issue, unless you do a proper assessment and those are difficult to come by.

Medical tests done through bloodwork can let doctors know if you have a chemical imbalance, and this is something that I highly recommend every single person on earth try to go through at least once. If the issue is chemical and psychological together then knowing what’s going on in your blood can help doctors decide if you’re stressed because you’re genuinely dealing with a disorder, vs whether or not you’re just pissed at your partner for not taking out the garbage.

Before you consult a doctor or professional, sit down and make a list of all the times you’ve been out of sorts, make sure you include any drinking, drug usage, or medicinal habits that might contribute to a chemical imbalance and your emotional feelings.

Use this chart of events or experiences to graph your experience so that when you sit down with a doctor you can show them, and discuss things rationally. We tend to forget things when we’re in front of a doctor, making a list will go a long way to helping them diagnose you properly while making sure you get to say everything you need or want to say.

How Do I Speak to My Teen or Youth About Trauma?

Trauma is the lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships. – Trauma – CAMH

Open, honest, and healthy conversations with parents are difficult when you’re talking about trauma. As a kid, all you want is to be hugged and told that everything is going to be okay, but as an adult looking down at that kid, all you want to do is know how you missed something.

The first thing you need to know is that when a kid is traumatized, even if you’re the reason that they are traumatized, their trauma is NOT ABOUT YOU.

You could tie a child to a pole and beat them for three days and their feelings about what happened will STILL not be about you. They will instead be about the fact that the trust they had in the world is completely shattered. Suddenly their world isn’t so safe, and that’s an absolutely terrifying reality for most youth to face.

Especially in 2022, they are exposed to traumatic events all day long. From physical, emotional, sexual, and mental abuse at school, to not being able to talk about it – often because they just don’t have the words – is a really scary place for a young person to be.

Often “I hate you,” or “I just don’t want to talk about it,” IS the young person’s way of talking about it, it’s not that they don’t what to talk about it, it’s that often they just don’t know what the fuck to say. I didn’t know how to say I was raped until I was in my early 30s, and it started before I was six.

The reality is that the world is not safe, and it’s your job – whether you like it or not – to create safe spaces for youth to go when the world shows them its ugly side. So if you want to have a conversation about trauma with a young person remember these rules first:

  • It’s not about you
  • It’s never going to be about you again
  • Your responsibility is to listen and to answer questions, not ask them unless invited to do so.

How Do I Teach Myself To Respect Boundaries With Young Folk?

When I was growing up I did not wear skirts, dresses, or shorts. For obvious reasons. It took a lot out of me to wear shorts, and my favourite pair was a pair of orange ones that I wore to a family bbq where I was then sexually assaulted by one of the cousin’s uncles. He grabbed my ass – not a big deal when you compare it, but still a huge deal to a sixteen-year-old girl with severe body image issues.

When it comes to what a young person wears, don’t comment. As long as they are dressed respectfully, as long as they behave and don’t randomly act out violently, leave them the fuck alone. If they want attention they will find ways to get it, but to push past someone’s barriers at any age, teaches them that they as young people, do not have the right to say “no.” Which translates to their adult life.

I know that the reason I struggle with saying “no,” is because I grew up in a family where we were not allowed to say no when an adult asked us to do or say something or wear something, and it was really frustrating because the lack of ability to say no, meant that I lost autonomy over my own self, and forgot for a lot of years, that I am allowed to say “no” whenever I please, and no one is allowed to stop me.

If you want to create healthy boundaries with your young person, then remind them that you’ll be there when you are needed, and maybe create a secret signal so that they can let you know in private that they need you, without having to ask or feel like they are begging for your help.

How Can I Speak With A Youth Who Has Been Raped?

Speaking about rape with someone who has just been raped is incredibly difficult. It’s a scary topic. Again we go to the person whose been sexually abused or raped wondering how to put the pieces back together, and the person or people hearing hte story wondering what they missed and how they can help.

Honestly? There’s very little you can do that is going to make the victim or survivor feel better. You can be there, you can offer a hug if they feel comfortable with that, or a cup of tea, you can be there to listen, but the hard work of putting your life together after sexual abuse is sadly left to the survivor. And that’s not a great place to be. It’s really scary to realize that your body has been used as a weapon against you and it can take years to heal. The most that I can suggest is that instead of speaking, listen.

PLEASE do not say you understand – even if you too have been raped – because you don’t. I will never understand how other rape victims and survivors survived. Because their journey is not my journey and my journey is not their journey. Each of us deals with sexual abuse and trauma differently but PLEASE make yourself believe that the PTSD from a sexual assault can last decades.

It’s never going to. be”okay,” again, and no you can’t just go out and kill the bad guy. Be there. That’s it. Answer the phone at two am, rush to the door with wine or weed or books, just be there. Be prepared to be there, and be willing to be there, and understand that. it might be a lot of late nights, but YOU being there for someone whose been sexually abused might LITERALLY prevent them from feeling like death is their only option.

If you’d like to ask me more questions about mental health, life with trauma or PTSD, or anything else under the sun, please feel free to send me an anonymous email in the form below.

Until then, sending all my love,

Devon J Hall

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