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Mental health seminar helps parents navigate teenage years

Dr. Matt Larsen and Marie Elser speaking at a free mental health seminar sponsored by Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center and District 91. | Brittni Johnson,
IDAHO FALLS — Parents and teenagers attended a seminar Wednesday evening to learn tips on navigating through the waters of mental health.
The presentation was put on by Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center and District 91. The two organizations partnered with each other about three years ago to provide annual mental health seminars.
Dr. Matt Larsen, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at EIRMC’s Behavioral Health Center, spoke about how to have a conversation with struggling teenagers. He explained how to distinguish between normal and abnormal teen rebellion along with warning signs that might require professional help.
“You don’t like the way you feel, you want to feel different, so you do something that makes you feel good,” Larsen said. “If you treat most of the things your kids do that way, as it’s something they do to feel better, it’s easier to get rid of the judgment and then have a productive conversation.”
Larsen said teenagers often lie when confronted with questions about their actions because they feel there is judgment behind the question. That automatically kills a conversation, Larsen said. To better approach teenagers under difficult circumstances, he suggests parents make the child’s problem their own.
“Then your kid usually wants to help you out of the bad situation because you make yourself part of the victim,” Larsen said. “It’s not me at my kid. It’s me and my kid in this crappy situation together.”
He said most adults tell their kids, ‘You can talk to me about anything,’ but that’s not enough. They want to know what their parent’s responses will be once they find out what the child’s done, according to Larsen. Regardless of the situation, he said parents should let their children know they want to help.
“Can you actually have someone come home and say, ‘I might be pregnant?’ Can you actually have them say, ‘I dropped out of my class’ or ‘I dropped out of college three weeks ago and didn’t tell.’ Can they actually say those things and have a conversation? Or are you going to flip your lid?,” Larsen asked the audience.

Dr. Matt Larsen talking at the free mental health seminar put on by Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center and District 91. | Brittni Johnson,
Along with how to have a productive conversation, Larsen discussed what’s considered normal teen behavior and what are red flag warnings of a possible mental health disorder.
Larsen said it’s normal for teenagers to stay up late, sleep in, not want to get up for school and spend more time with friends than family. He added it’s normal to worry about physical appearance and hide conversations on cellphones from parents.
It is not normal to refuse completely to attend school, have sudden changes of energy, be consistently overeating or undereating, have hidden texting apps, shun social activity and be gone overnight without permission or notification.
“When it starts to screw up their life and the things they care about, that’s when you know there is a major problem,” Larsen said.
To help teenagers and all District 91 students, Marie Elser, an elementary guidance counselor, gave an overview of the district’s new ‘Question Persuade Refer’ protocol. It’s part of the district’s suicide prevention efforts.
The purpose of QPR is to ask a question and save a life. QPR means question someone about suicide, persuade someone to get help and refer the person to an appropriate resource.
“What we are hoping is by training all the staff in District 91 — and our hope is that we can get into the community — that we’re going to be able to have more people that can ask the question, ‘Are you suicidal?’”

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