Mental health town hall stresses communication

T-R PHOTO BY SUSANNA MEYER – Alex Rohn, licensed mental health counselor and the therapeutic outreach coordinator for Please Pass the Love, spoke about teen stress at Thursday night’s virtual mental health town hall hosted by East Marshall High School’s Students Empowering And Leading group and the Community Foundation of Marshall County.

Parents, caregivers and youth alike were provided with a wealth of information regarding mental health on Thursday night at a virtual town hall hosted by East Marshall High School’s student philanthropy group, Students Empowering And Leading (SEAL), along with the Community Foundation of Marshall County (CFMC).

Speakers from Please Pass the Love — an organization dedicated to advocating for student mental health — covered basic background information, suicide prevention and teen stress, among other topics.

The main focus of the one-hour event was educating parents on mental health in their children and how to approach discussions on the subject.

Jessica Christensen, who has a master’s degree in education and is the director of community development and training at Please Pass the Love, began the presentation with information about depression and anxiety in high school and middle school students.

“When a student has one or both of these, it will sometimes mean that they’re irritable, they’re feeling mad, they’re hypersensitive,'” Christensen said. “Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, maybe crying, which I think is what we mostly connect to depression and anxiety. When I was a teacher though, I saw the irritable and the mad, the hypersensitive where they would just fly off the handle really for no reason. I saw that more often.”

While many of the symptoms Christensen listed were very visible, she urged the audience to check in with the kids who seem to be checking all the boxes as well.

“Perfectionism is a mental health risk. They think they’re different and they start to isolate themselves and they can even become self-destructive and are at a higher risk for self-medicating with drugs and alcohol,” she said. “Our brains will do whatever it takes to feel better and a lot of times especially if you don’t know and you don’t have healthy coping skills, you will gravitate to what’s easiest.”

Christensen also shared a side-by-side image of a healthy person’s brain scan and a brain scan of a person with depression, noting the physical differences between the two and cautioning against statements like “It was hard when I was young.”

“If your child has depression or they’re feeling down, their brain isn’t going to be able to work the same way that a neurotypical child’s brain would work,” Christensen said. “Some of the things we’re asking them to do may not be possible.”

After looking at some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety, Christensen went on to discuss the warning signs of suicide and ways to prevent it.

Lack of interest, increase in impulsivity, a lack of future orientation or sudden changes in appetite or sleeping patterns were just a few of the red flags.

“You know your child better than anybody so any change in disposition, and I’m not saying any change in disposition means to call the crisis line to get that help right then, but it is a chance for you to have a conversation with your child,” Christensen said.

Christensen stressed that communication needs to be very clear in these situations, and if self-harm or thoughts of suicide are suspected, directly asking the child or teenager about it is imperative in order to get them the appropriate help.

Alex Rohn, a licensed mental health counselor and the therapeutic outreach coordinator for Please Pass the Love, also spoke at the town hall, and she focused on teen stress and how parents can help.

“Our teens are under an immense amount of pressure and under stress, and although they don’t have a mortgage, although they don’t have a high-pressure job, they are under stress and their stress is valid,” Rohn said.

Stress from global problems in the past several years as well as high expectations and stress about their own futures are just a few of the factors teens face today. While situational stress is a normal part of life, when it goes on for extended periods, it can become a problem.

“To know if it’s more than stress, we’ve got to look at the duration and we’ve got to look at the intensity,” Rohn said.

To combat these challenges, Rohn encouraged parents to talk with their kids. Starting the conversation at the right time and in the right state of mind is one of the best ways to have a good conversation about mental health.

“It’s so, so important to listen,” Rohn said. “It’s another reason why you need to be in the right headspace, so you don’t react or do an eyeroll and that’s so important. That allows our children to feel empowered and feel like they have some sort of control.”

Above all, no matter the topic, Christensen and Rohn emphasized the importance of communication between parents and children on the subject of mental health.

“You’re not going to get it right. It’s going to be messy and awkward and hard, but what’s important is that you ask the questions,” Rohn said. “The magic happens in the messy, so if we can learn to be vulnerable and authentic with our kids they are more likely to depend on us.”

To view some of the mental health resources that were shared during the town hall, visit https://www.pleasepassthelove.org/resource.

Jessica Christensen, the director of community development and training at Please Pass the Love, shared the warning signs for mental illness in youth at the virtual town hall meeting on Thursday night.

Please Pass the Love is an organization dedicated to advocating for student mental health.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.38/week.

Subscribe Today