Mental health jargon has become more commonplace, raising awareness and understanding of mental health conditions. Discussing disorders and normalizing therapy emphasizes the importance of caring for our mental health. It is one thing to recognize our own mental health, but acknowledging the mental health of our teenage sons can be difficult, given communication difficulties and the normal adolescent experience of separating from parents. Across the world, it is estimated that approximately 14% of youth ages 10-19 experience a mental disorder. With the increase in awareness, more individuals are pursuing explanations for symptoms or dysfunction in their lives. What happens, though, when your teenage son receives a mental health diagnosis? Here are five questions to answer:
1. What does it mean to you and to him?
When he receives a diagnosis, you should have a conversation with your son, and his mental health provider, about what the diagnosis means to him and your family. It is important to start with where he is, what he understands, and work from there. Teenagers have unprecedented access to information, some accurate and some not, from the internet and their peers but understanding a mental diagnosis is extremely personal. Of course, as a parent, you also need to ponder what the diagnosis means to you and how it might impact your family. Diagnoses can help explain thoughts, feelings, and behavior, providing a framework for understanding and giving an answer to what your son has been experiencing.
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2. Should he tell other people or keep it private?
For your teenage son, disclosing a diagnosis to others can be tricky, as it could evoke undue bullying or personal attacks, but it could also create a sense of community as others may confide in him a similar diagnosis or provide better understanding. Talk to your son about who he trusts and what potential consequences are of sharing any diagnosis, whether it is mental or physical. Some diagnoses, like a broken leg, are obvious to others and need to be explained. Others, however, provide no outward visible signs so it is up to the person to disclose the diagnosis to others. Explore with your son the potential risks but also the benefits. When it comes to whether you should disclose his diagnosis, it is crucial to protect your son’s privacy while also gaining the support you might need to navigate parenting decisions.
3. Does your son need treatment?
A diagnosis in teenage boys can be used to guide treatment decisions. Usually, boys receive a diagnosis because there is some observable behavior, discomfort, or experience. Once this is understood, treatment possibilities can be addressed. Certain diagnoses, such as ADHD, may respond well to medication and some may only necessitate treatment for a short period of time. Remind your son that to get the treatment he needs he will need a diagnosis but that there are effective treatments for the disorder.
4. How is he spending his time?
With some diagnoses, like conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder, problematic behavior is at the root of the disorder itself. Your son might have been engaging in illegal behavior, like stealing, or using substances. When he receives a diagnosis, you need to look at how your son has been spending his time and help him shift his day-to-day activities to be more productive and beneficial. Make sure he gets to school. Find some positive role models for his guidance. Cook dinner together. Do something fun. If your son has a depressive disorder, he has probably withdrawn from what he used to enjoy. Help him set up his environment to reintroduce those activities. Go for a hike. You don’t have to become a helicopter parent to help your son adjust his day to include more positive healthy activities.
5. How can you come together as a family?
When a teenage boy is involved in therapy or receives a mental health diagnosis, it tends to mean that some family disruption has occurred, even if it is unrecognizable until the diagnosis is received. Sometimes that means that your son has become withdrawn and stayed away from the family but other times it means he has been obnoxious and rude. Once your son receives a diagnosis, think about how you can try to work on the family unit. Maybe that means family therapy in addition to individual treatment for your son. Maybe that means openly talking about the diagnosis and what it means to him and to the family. Maybe that means directing your attention to helping your son adjust to the diagnosis itself. View the bigger picture and provide a unit of support with the intent of helping your son through coping with a mental health diagnosis.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
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