How you can support teens who are finishing high school

Posted by Studentbox user
on 27/10/2018 at in  Everything else
There's a lot to navigate when you're a young adult preparing to leave high school.

Beyond the stress of exams and the expectations of family and friends, you face many important decisions.

Should you go to university, have a gap year adventure or get a job? Should you move out of home, and are you able to? What do you want to do with your life?

It's no surprise that it's a particularly important time for young people's mental health. A recent study by headspace found 38 per cent of Australians aged between 18 and 21 reported high or very high levels of psychological distress.

Whether you're a parent, friend or teacher, here's a guide to supporting the young people in your life through this period of major transition.

What's going on?

Besides having to make big decisions about their future, teenagers in the final years of high school are also experiencing changes to their bodies and brains, trying to fit in socially, and developing romantic relationships for the first time, says Nick Duigan, senior advisor in clinical practice at headspace.

There are lots of little pressures: exams, academic performance, socialising, work and the expectations of others.

Some people have genetics, personality types or trauma that affects how they experience and cope with stress. Some might be starting to experiment with alcohol and other drugs.

"Individually, any one of those things isn't likely to create a mental health problem," Mr Duigan says.

"But, when you stack up a whole lot of stresses on top of each other, the more likely it is that someone is going to feel overwhelmed."

When things don't go to plan

High school is also a time when things don't always work out as planned. For some children, the goal they have been working towards — like becoming a doctor or a fighter pilot — might be slipping away.

"This is where mental health is really a changing landscape for us," says Loretta Wholley, College Principal  at Merici College in Canberra.

"It can be the high achiever — the student who is really focused on a career pathway to the point they can't see anything else. When the plan doesn't go perfectly, that can be a real issue."

Starting conversations and creating support

If you want to check in with a young person in your life to see how they're going, here's Nick Duigan's advice on how to go about it.

  • Do some preparation beforehand. Read some of the many resources available from mental health organisations such as ReachOutBeyondblue and Headspace to help identify what to look for.
  • Choose the time and place. This is not the kind of thing you want to raise in a heated argument, or when someone is feeling distressed. You want a safe, calm setting.
  • In terms of the conversation itself, let them know you care about them, why you are checking in, and ask if there's anything you can do to help. For example: "I've noticed you've been staying home a lot. I'm worried things might not be going OK for you. I want to make sure you know I'm here for you, and to check if there's anything I can do to make things easier. How am I reading that?"
  • If they do start opening up, your job is to listen, not fix things there and then. Be supportive, non-judgemental and respectful.
  • You can offer help. You could ask if they'd like you to go with them to a GP, or for help investigating treatments or self-help strategies if they'd prefer not to see a professional.
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