4 St. Louis experts share age-specific advice about mental wellness – St. Louis Magazine

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Mental health needs change as we get older. We reached out to counselors and experts for advice on handling stress and navigating life’s challenges.
February 5, 2022
6:00 AM
It can be difficult for kids to articulate their emotions, younger children in particular. When a child can’t verbalize their feelings, they might throw a tantrum or refuse to follow directions. If such irritable behavior happens frequently, parents may want to look for potential underlying issues—although not every child’s struggles rise to the level of needing a therapist. There are several ways that parents can ensure they’re in tune with their child’s feelings. “Do something on a daily basis where you’re plugging into your kid,” says Tom Duff, executive director of Saint Louis Counseling. “Ask open-ended questions and probe into the answers, even though your kid may be like, ‘I already told you!’ The more you do that, the more they’re recognizing that you’re there for support.” Sometimes, just listening can make a difference. Children—even the smallest ones—need to vent on occasion. “The reality is that kids go through different stages of development, and sometimes they just want to be heard,” Duff says. “Not always providing feedback is a tool, because then they realize that they’re not being judged and the doors of communication are open.”
The teenage years are hard, especially when adolescents encounter challenges stemming from school, social interactions, and first jobs. Kelsey Torgerson Dunn of Compassionate Counseling St. Louis recommends that parents use a three-step approach to help teens manage stress and anxiety: 1. Identify and emphathize: Acknowledge stressors, and let the teen know it’s OK to feel overwhelmed or angry; 2. Calm down: Try relaxation strategies, such as going for a walk or making plans for the weekend; 3. Create a game plan: “Once you know what your child is feeling and they’ve calmed down enough, then you can approach the problem-solving,” Torgerson Dunn says. “A lot of times, we want to jump right into the problem-solving, but you can’t really do that if you don’t know what’s going on and you’re not calm enough to think clearly.” It’s important for parents to realize that a teen who’s acting angry might be having other underlying emotions. Outbursts often mask complicated feelings, Torgerson Dunn says, so getting to the root of the anger is key. “Anxiety, stress, and anger can get all tangled up with one another,” she says. “Your child might come across as angry, but then when we dig in a little more, it turns out they’re just worried about something.”
For Greenway Therapy clinical director Kristen Craren, one small silver lining of the pandemic has been watching the erosion of stigmas that have long surrounded mental health and therapy. During the past two years, an influx of new patients have sought therapy from Greenway and other sources. “We’re seeing older generations become more amiable to coming to therapy, and that’s really positive,” Craren says. “Some people in their fifties and sixties are coming to therapy for the very first time.” For some, reading a self-help book and gaining exposure to new ideas can help. For others, talking with a therapist—if only for a few weeks or months—might be beneficial. “You don’t have to be in crisis to see a therapist,” Craren says. “Not everybody has to go to therapy for a long time. You might go to therapy for a couple of months and get what you need. That’s great, too.”
Physical and mental health are intertwined, especially as we age. So when Amy Neu, assistant director of senior care services at West County Psychological Associates, first meets with a senior patient, she assesses whether they’re dealing with a lifelong issue or something related to aging. “I go over their physical health status and what they’re able to do independently,” Neu says. “Then I ask if there are things that they need help with. If so, what’s that like? There’s a lot that goes on in our minds when we see our bodies changing to such an extent.” Aging can also mean that it’s harder to get out in the world and feel connected to the community and those around you, especially given the outsize impact the pandemic has had on seniors. But reconnecting and reengaging with those around you isn’t an insurmountable challenge. Neu recommends starting small. “You don’t have to go to every single activity that’s offered at your senior living community or at the senior center,” Neu says. “Just do what’s comfortable. It can be as simple as going to a park and walking around or taking a drive. Just make a habit of it and work it into a routine. Routines are really important because they give us a sense of security and structure. That can help us move forward.”
February 5, 2022
6:00 AM

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