5 Powerful Ways to Discuss Depression With Your Teen

**Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. Please read with caution.**

The Importance of Checking In

Cameron wanted to watch “13 Reasons Why” and while I’ve never watched it, I didn’t want to hold him back. I sat him down for a chat before I would allow him to watch. We discussed what it was about, how Hannah’s death impacted her friends and if Cameron thought it would upset him.

He said that he would be okay watching it, his friends had told him about it. He asked me if I wanted to watch it, and I told him thanks but no thanks. (My former therapist advised me to not watch it.) He watched it and was a bit sad but otherwise okay.

After Cameron finished the series, we talked again, only this time, we talked about suicide itself. I just wanted to see where he was. He said no, he had never thought about it or never been so depressed/angry that he thought about it. I was relieved.

He knows that he can come to me about anything, but I also know that many who consider suicide don’t always go to someone when considering it. I asked him if he knew anyone who might even be thinking about it or is hurting, and all I got was “Nope, I think everyone is good, Mom.”

I was relieved.

Thanks to my work with kids around Cameron’s age, I know this conversation doesn’t happen in every home and/or doesn’t go so well. I’ve seen teens angry as hell that their attempts were not successful.

There isn’t really a timeline on how often to check in, but I would go for it every once in a while. Just see what your child is thinking.

5 Things to Keep In Mind

  1. Listen, even when your teen is being quiet. Teens do have quiet moments. It happens. The time to worry is when they are being more quiet than usual. Are they stressed out? Did they just have a bad breakup? Chronic medical issues and/or severe chronic pain? Is there a family history of suicide? A history of substance use? Encourage your teen to not isolate but don’t push too far. Some kids like being alone.
  2. Lower demands of your teen. Teens are very busy these days. Life is full of stress from school, friends, even sports and jobs. All of this can snowball and when you feel you aren’t “good enough” it can be crushing. Try to help your teen when you can and break things down, even if that means quitting a sport or other activities. There is a reason I keep my kids underscheduled. I don’t want extremely stressed out kids. This may change once high school starts, but for right now, they aren’t bogged down with constant activities.
  3. Teens can be embarrassed to ask for help, just like adults. They might not want to ask for help because they don’t want to burden their parents, who are busy with work and other things. They don’t feel worthy of the help they need. We need to remind them that they are worthy.
  4. Some teens are resistant to help but may warm up later. Don’t expect immediate results. They may try to skip sessions, not speak, etc, but will eventually come around. Stick to the therapy and the results will be worth it.
  5. If your child mentions wanting to complete suicide or wanting to die, please seek help immediately. Remove anything that they can hurt themselves with, including firearms, immediately and get them to an ER. This cannot be brushed off and can end tragically if it is.

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Getting the Help Your Child Needs

Admitting that your child needs psychological help is not an easy thing. I’ve had to do it. Taking Julian to a psychiatrist was one of the hardest things I have ever done as a mother, but it was well worth it. It will be worth it for you, your child and your family.

Your child may need in or outpatient help, or a combination of both. If your child needs medication, that is not terrible. Please consider the pros and cons before starting medications. There is no shame in doing either and please remember, it is not a reflection on you as a parent. It took me years to learn that.

Encouraging Empathy and Compassion

If your child seems fine, this is great. The talk you have can change gears into how they can help a friend that isn’t okay. Again, the world we live in can be overwhelming for some teens. They may need a friend like your child who can listen, offer a hug and maybe even a laugh or two. Laughter can go a long way with teens when they are not doing so well.

Compassion and empathy can go far when your child has a friend who is struggling through their days and need someone to remind them that it is okay to not be perfect. Everyone has difficult times and needs someone to reach out to. Your child can be that person to someone. This can end up being a good lesson.

Depression can hit at any age, for any reason, at any time. Please remember this when you speak to your teen about this issue. Handle the discussion carefully and don’t judge them. You may lose their trust if you do so. Please see my Resources page for more information on depression and suicide resources.

Information for this post from these resources:

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apa.org

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The Giving Season: Teaching Your Child Empathy

Our children learn a lot from us- how to treat others is one of those lessons. During this time of the year, we remind our children to give back and care about others.

Most kids are pretty good at showing empathy- the ability to understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Some kids need a little extra help in this department, and that’s okay.

Kids on the autism spectrum and those that have other special needs may need help with this. For example, Julian has had serious issues learning empathy and we work on it almost daily.

Empathy is important for a child’s well-being because it helps build happy and healthy relationships. It can also help prevent bullying and other destructive behaviors/relationships.

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Working Towards Empathetic Kids

How can we teach our kids to be more empathetic?

  • By being more empathetic ourselves. This means tuning in to what each of our kids needs, physically and emotionally. It also means cherishing their individual personalities and loving your kids as they are, not what you may want them to be. This also means being showing empathy to others, because our kids watch what we do. They watch how we interact with others in public, our friends and other family members.
  • Make caring for others a priority. This can vary among families, but many families value taking care of family whenever needed however possible. For example, my kids know that my mom has mobility issues because of her knee replacements, so they help her walk down our very steep driveway. They have watched Matthew help his mom’s family numerous time because he’s great with cars and home projects. I try to help my friends as much as possible and the kids have also seen this.
  • Provide opportunities for kids to show empathy. We have done role-playing games with Julian as part of therapy. Over time, those have sunk in a bit, and so has discussing real-life issues in sessions. If you have a kid on the spectrum, you can imagine how difficult this lesson can be to teach. It is starting to get slightly easier. We discuss school and news issues because we are a pretty diverse family and this has created some very interesting discussions. When we took in Miss Purr and Tiger, those were two great times to display empathy, because rescue pets require that. My kids fell in love with both animals instantly. When Tiger’s tumor ruptured, Julian may have been the saddest person in the house. He insisted on sleeping with him the last night before he was put to sleep. When I woke him up for school, he was holding Tiger’s paw. The kids were genuinely worried about Tiger and devastated when he was gone.
  • Teach your child to identify their feelings and how to cope with negative feelings. Kids need to know how to identify how they feel so that they can deal with it. They need to be able to express themselves- it can be confusing to not know how to describe how you feel. It can feel worse to not know how to cope with negative feelings. Let your child know what ways are and are not acceptable to deal with those feelings so that when they are angry, sad or feeling other ways, they don’t have to wonder how they can cope.
  • Ask “How would you feel?” This may sound simple, but it can be effective. I have done this often and it will make a child think a bit deeper than you may think. Let the child pause and reflect for a few minutes (if needed). They may not know how they would feel at first and need the extra time. Maybe they haven’t thought about it before.

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Teaching empathy may take some time, the earlier you start, the better. Have a great holiday season with your family!

How do you encourage your children to care about others? Do you have a favorite story about your child being empathetic to another child? Share if you do!

Information courtesy of Very Well Family

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Watching Your Words: Talking to Someone with a Mental Illness

It can be hard to know what to say when you are talking to someone with a mental illness. You don’t want to insult them, minimize their experience, or otherwise offend them. Who would want to do that? If you haven’t been around a lot of people who have a mental illness, it can be difficult to know what to say.

My entire career has been centered around this, but I can’t call myself an expert. Everyone slips up. I’ve said the wrong thing to people and felt bad about it. I’ve apologized and learned from it. I have issues with anxiety and depression (currently both are majorly impacting my life), and it seriously hurts when people around me don’t even try to understand what I am dealing with.

It can be difficult for me to even get out of bed, shower and eat without my brain telling me to stay in bed with my dark thoughts. When people minimize my feelings, it just makes me want to crawl into a hole and stay there until everything fades. This is just one part of how I feel and how I see things. It’s different for everyone.

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Take Time to Think

Empathy goes a long way when talking to someone with a mental illness. Think carefully before you start discussing what’s going on- they may not be feeling their best, or even if they are, it’s still a tough subject.

I don’t like talking about my anxiety and depression, and I only do so when I really need to. When I do, it’s more about the current issue I’m having- if I’m having a bad day and I just want to be left alone, panicking over things that are going wrong, or even struggling with staying sober. The main issues behind my anxiety and depression? I’ll pass. This goes for a lot of others.

Trust doesn’t come easily to people with mental illness. We have seen people come and go, sometimes unexpectedly. We become guarded. We don’t like letting people in, some don’t let anyone in. This has its own set of issues.

If you want to discuss what’s going on with us, please do so gently and judgement-free. We get enough of that. If you don’t know much about anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc., please ask. Try researching it on Google.

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Do’s and Don’ts

These tips may help you navigate the discussion of mental illness with someone you know.

Do:

  • Say “I am here for you if you need to talk” This can mean so much to someone, with or without a mental illness. Three of my closest friends have varying degrees of mental illness and we are there for each other, no matter what, any time of the day.  We are each other’s support system. This can be a huge amount of comfort- knowing someone is there for you. I am incredibly lucky to have these friends. Just listening to someone can be the best thing you can do.
  • “You’re not weird” Some with mental illness, especially severe mental illness (SMI), feel as if they are “weird” or “nuts”, but those that are close to them don’t see them that way. Reminding them of this can help them know that they are capable of being a person with a life outside of their illness.
  • “You deserve to be happy” This may encourage someone to seek help sooner than later. It may remind them that they don’t deserve the self-stigma they put upon themselves. Happiness is for everyone.
  • Ask them if they are in treatment and if they are, how it is going. If they are not, encourage and/or help them find help. This can be incredibly helpful to someone who may be struggling.
  • You’re awesome for fighting this battle” Sometimes a little bit of encouragement can go a long way.

Don’t:

  • “Snap out of it” I hate this phrase so much. I wish I could snap my fingers and be much happier, but that’s not how it works. Even with two years of therapy and learning coping skills, I still have terrible days. It just doesn’t work like that. Sometimes I can stop the anxious thoughts, sometimes I can’t. It snowballs and things so badly from there. I don’t enjoy this.
  • “It will be better when the pain goes away” Um..no. This isn’t how it works. The pain comes back and sometimes it’s a lot worse, so what happens then? Life isn’t magical like that, so until unicorns show up and cure depression, I don’t see this happening.
  • “You’re just looking for attention” If I wanted attention, I’d find a much better way to get it. Depression and anxiety both suck. I definitely don’t want attention because of it. I’d rather be left alone when either make an appearance. I don’t know anyone with a mental illness that uses it for attention.
  • “But you don’t look sick” UGH. I get this one a lot because I have RA, and in fact, I’m annoyed by that. Do I need to get a cane or electric wheelchair? Carry around a copy of my labs? I digress, but you get the idea. It’s basically the same with mental illness. It’s invisible. You can’t see it. There’s no way to tell unless someone tells you and even then, millions of us manage to maintain hygiene daily. Those that don’t are usually severely sick, and that is a whole different issue.
  • “I went through the same thing..” Unless someone asks, don’t do it. This isn’t a competition. Sometimes your perspective can help, but most of the time, it looks like you’re trying to compete and that’s not helpful.

 

It is so important that we think before we speak on delicate topics, especially something like mental illness.

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Do you have any tips to add? Do you have any experiences to share?

Recommended Reading: Book Review: “Struck By Living”

Mental Illness and Relationships

Information courtesy of Time To Change 

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