Nurturing Mental Health in 2024: Your Guide to Connected Conversations
Posted: November 13, 2023 | Word Count: 819
It’s the season for family gatherings and resolutions. Family gatherings can bring both joy and stress. Thinking ahead to our goals for the next year, we often focus on self-improvement or showing up for other people in our lives. But there is one action that accomplishes both and can improve our mental health significantly: Deepening connection. The advice here can apply to any space or time, but can create connection and lessen conflict at the holidays.
“Social connection is a fundamental human need, as essential to survival as food, water and shelter,” wrote Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, in his recent advisory Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. He shared the sobering fact that research shows that social disconnection is as bad for our overall health as “smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day,” and emphasized that “Our individual relationships are an untapped resource — a source of healing hiding in plain sight. They can help us live healthier, more productive and more fulfilled lives.”
This year, The Jed Foundation (JED), which is focused on promoting mental health and preventing suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults, is offering concrete ways to start important and vulnerable intergenerational conversations that are the foundation of strong, supportive relationships. They can also be life-changing and — sometimes — life-saving.
Suicide remains the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-olds in the U.S., but it is preventable. Everyone has three key tools they can use to support young people: showing up, being willing to have hard conversations, and listening deeply. Being able to talk openly about suicide opens the door through which people find help.
"One of the best ways to care for your emotional health, and the emotional health of those around you, is by connecting to people you care about,” said Dr. Katie Hurley, DSW, a child and adolescent psychologist and Senior Clinical Advisor at JED. “Through social connectedness, you can create a solid foundation for mental well-being.”
Dr. Hurley suggests two ways to create a supportive environment along with conversation starters — from the everyday to the philosophical — that can be building blocks for more connected, enjoyable and mentally healthy family gatherings now and in the year ahead.
Make Space for Connection IRL
Create boundaries for social media use as a family. Prioritize spending time with people in person. These face-to-face interactions help to foster authentic connections and allow you, your young people, and others in your circle to share the joys and challenges you are experiencing.
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Being vulnerable with the people you trust in your life will help strengthen your bonds and support network. As a parent, caregiver or caring adult, admitting that you're struggling mentally and emotionally can feel difficult, but there’s a pay-off. Acknowledging challenges makes them feel more manageable and encourages the same openness in the teens and young adults in your lives. This shows them the power of being open and honest. It’s equally important to share the things you do to cope with difficult moments.
Conversation Starters to Spark Family Connection
Caregivers to Teens
- What is something you and your friends know more about than the adults in your lives?
- If you could plan a family trip — on an unlimited budget — where would we go and what would we do?
- If you could host a dinner for six people you admire the most, who would they be?
- If you could fix one problem in the world right now what would it be?
- What is something people don’t usually know about you when they first get to know you?
Teens to Caregivers
- What’s one mistake you made that you were afraid for other people to find out about?
- What’s one thing my generation has that you wish you had when you were my age?
- Who was your go-to person when you were growing up?
- What helps you relax when you are feeling stressed?
- Name one of your most embarrassing moments when you were my age.
Teens to Teens
- What’s something you wish your family understood about you?
- What’s your favorite TikTok account when you want to check out for a bit?
- Do you have a go-to thing you do when you’re feeling down?
- How do you like people to support you when you’re having a hard time?
- Would you rather go to a big party and meet lots of new people or gather with a small group of friends at home?
To learn more about how you can invest in your mental health and that of the young people in your life, visit JED’s Mental Health Resource Center and check out JED’s Guides to having tough — but important — conversations. For example, 10 tips to start a conversation with your teens about their mental well-being.
For media inquiries or interview opportunities, please contact Justin Barbo, Director of Public Relations at JED, at [email protected].