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By Rufus Carter

According to 2017 statistics by Mental Health America, 11 percent of kids aged 12-17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year, and just over 5 percent report a substance abuse problem. Mental health issues in teenagers are not a matter to be taken lightly by parents and educators, especially since teens are likely to be more vulnerable to peer pressure and bullying than their adult counterparts.

One of the ways in which you can help your teenagers overcome mental health issues is by instilling and encouraging healthy habits in their lives. Things like exercise, diet, and sleep will not cure mental health problems by themselves, but they can form a healthy and solid support structure that will make recovery easier.

Know the Benefits

The first step is to educate yourself on the importance of healthy habits to our overall wellness. Exercise is perhaps the most important, as it reduces stress in both the short and long term. It has also been shown to reduce symptoms of depression.

The link between mental health and diet is less well-proven, but nonetheless important. A poor diet can make teens feel sluggish, which can in turn affect their performances at school and increase their overall stress levels. Diet is also closely linked with obsessive behaviors and thoughts regarding appearance, so it is essential to teach teens to have a healthy relationship with food.

Don’t Neglect Sleep

Exercise and diet are the two elements that most people think about when thinking of healthy habits; however, sleep is equally important. We know that sleep is important, but many of us are not aware of just how essential it is for good mental health. Lack of sleep is linked with increased anxiety and depression, both of which can lead to substance abuse through self-medication. This is a problem that particularly affects teens.

Appeal to Their Sense of Justice

This current generation of teenagers is more actively involved than ever in matters of social justice, environmental concerns, and community development. This is not only great news for the world, but for teens’ health. For one, volunteering is one of the best habits anyone can pick up for mental health. Encouraging your teens to get involved with an organization they are passionate about is a great way to help them out of depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.

Secondly, it may also help them eat better. The Guardian reported a study that showed that teens are more likely to eat healthy if they believe it is an act of rebellion against the status quo. By educating your teens on the way junk food is designed by corporations to target the most vulnerable persons in society (with often unethical practices toward their employees and the environment), you can help frame healthy eating as an act of social justice.

Finally, make sure you complement this with professional help from a mental health expert. A healthy routine is an important part of recovery from a mental health disorder, but it is not a treatment in itself. Make sure to involve your teens in the process by having open conversations about mental health and its treatment. Let them know you are available to talk at any time, and that you are supportive of their attempts to get better. Above all, do not ignore these issues as a “normal” part of being a teenager. Suffering from a mental health issue is never normal and should always be addressed.