Mar 18th

Teen Mental Health with Michael Simon, MFT

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by Kathleen Bisaccia

Does My Teen Have Good Mental Health?  That is the question that Michael Simon, MFT, attempted to help parents answer at his presentation at the International High School on February 5, 2013.  Simon approached the audience with his usual good humor but on a more serious note than in the past.  The issue of teen suicide was prevalent and added a feeling of solemnity to the evening.  Simon pointed out that no one (child or adult) is perfectly healthy in every way.  In society a line has been crossed between helping a person to thrive and live in a community in a healthy way and reducing every mental issue to a serialized mental health category for insurance purposes.  Simon wishes we could take the former rather than latter approach to these issues.

Simon pointed out early on that good mental health is NOT the same as:  getting good grades, being popular, not using drugs or alcohol, having hundreds of Facebook friends, and participating in sports or other extra-curricular activities.  Many teens that present with the highest percentage of mental health issues actually have all of these things in his or her life, but at the same time suffer from depression, eating disorders, and anxiety.  These kids also sometimes commit suicide.

Simon also reiterated that while school can be a partner to a struggling teen, the school can’t be a parent.  It is up to the parents – the first responders – to watch for signs and clues.  Parents can spot changes in behavior, feelings and thinking – including changes in eating, sleeping, and socialness/connection.

Society currently stigmatizes mental health issues and for teens who are already aware of their tenuous social status this is particularly hard.  70% of all teens who need mental health assistance do not receive it.

One thing we can do to help our teens is help them to face situations where they can both succeed and fail – and then learn how to deal with the failure.  Good judgment comes from experience which comes from bad judgment.  Allow your teen the time and space they need to think over a response.

Each of us is different – different biology, biography, and rate of development, so each person will handle stresses differently.  But there are some signs to look for when evaluating whether  a person has positive mental health.  These include:

  • Resilience
  • Balance of dependence and independence
  • The ability to love and recognize what others need
  • Ability to do a complete work – e.g. cook a whole meal
  • Affect management – can experience, understand, and manage emotions
  • Responds well to stress
  • Passion and a sense of aliveness
  • Positive response to loss and failure
  • Ethics and being kind to others
  • Ability to attach and feel close to others
  • Having a sense that you won’t be abandoned, deeply hurt or neglected
  • Realistic view of self and others – no-one is all good or all bad

Learn more at:

Michael Simon’s new book is “The Approximate Parent” and can be found on or the Approximate Parent website.

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