A lot of people have been reaching out to me lately about their own teens or tweens who are sad or are suffering with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. This makes me both thankful that people are feeling better about talking about and opening up about mental health and completely nervous that I may give them bad advice or that I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. But there are certain things I’ve learned and am still learning in this journey I’m taking with my child and I thought I’d pass some of it along to those who have asked or could benefit. If you don’t give a shit and your teen, tween etc are perfect little princes and princesses, well then I urge you to skip this until you figure out their perfectness isn’t so perfect and you need it.
1. Just because your teen is sad does not mean they are depressed.
Teenagers come with a wide variety of feelings. Kind of like flavors, but a lot less fun and a lot more exhausting. These feelings can fluctuate every minute of every hour of every day of every month of every year. They can go from angry to sad to happy to frustrated to excited to sedate to manic to lethargic in a matter of a millisecond. I kid you not. So just because your teen says they are sad does not mean that they are depressed. There are levels of sadness just like there are levels of a sore throat. If the sadness is there but they are still able to do all their routines like they usually do them and they are still somewhat human (to the level they can be at this age) and they are still engaging in activities they enjoy then chances are, they just need a little TLC from a family member, friend, pet, etc. If the sadness is more persistent and invasive affecting sleep, hygiene, interpersonal relationships, grades, and recreation then a call into a doctor would be in order. Think about it like a sore throat if you will. There are levels to the sore throat from just take a throat drop and a couple of tylenol and rest up to I think you have strep and need an antibiotic, to holy crap you need your tonsils out immediately. And while you’ll have to use your best parenting skills here, I can tell you this, that if your child tells you they are sad, THIS IS GOOD. It means they are opening up and sharing with you about their feelings. And this means that they are open to getting help or talking about their feelings so keep the lines open and encourage them to share with you.
2. Know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, know when to run.
Or something. I always get the words to that song wrong and I’m far too lazy to look up the correct lyrics. Anyway, what I mean here is that as parents we believe it is our job to fix everything, to make it all better. We believe that if we kiss the boo boo and slap a band aid on it, all will be good. And for the most part, this is true. Kids will have their ups and downs and all arounds and for the most part, we as parents can kiss the boo boos and make it all better. There comes a time, however, that professional help may be warranted. If your child truly is depressed or sad to the point that they cannot see the light anymore, it is time to make a phone call. If you thought your child had the flu, you would call the doctor so the same holds true here. Start with the pediatrician and have an honest and open conversation about what your child is experiencing or showing you and listen to what they have to offer. Seeking outside help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. Use your parental intuition to guide you towards when and how to make that phone call. You will feel a huge weight lifted from you when you seek the help you need instead of thinking you have a better hand than you really do.
3. Let go of the thought that people will blame you.
The first thought when faced with the prospect of calling a professional for help with your child around mental health issues is that somehow it will all come out that this is all your fault. What is it we always say to our kids, “It’s all my fault, just blame me and we’ll save money on therapy bills later”. I believe that a lot of us don’t want to make that call because we are afraid of what our kids will say about our parenting and that we will be judged by the therapists. This is ludicrous and I’m as guilty as anyone of it. I can assure you that no matter how much you clean your house or regulate hand washing, your kids will get the stomach bug. It’s just a matter of time. Does this mean it’s your fault because you missed a spot? No. It means kids get sick. And kids can get sick in their hearts and heads as much as in their bellies. So let that go and get the help you need. As parents, we are doing the best that we can given the resources we have. So are our kids. It’s more important to reach out and get help than worry about the blame game. It’s about them, not us anyway, stop thinking this song is about you.
It is easy to just want to fix or plan or buy your child’s way out of depression or sadness. But what they really need is for you to listen. This was a big lesson for me to learn. I always want to know what’s wrong and what I can do to make it better but guess what? It’s not mine to make better, it’s hers. I bought her a pet, I took her to the salon, I took her shopping, I made her favorite foods and it didn’t matter because depression makes her sick and when you’re sick you don’t want these things, you just want people to listen about how much it sucks. So while the treatment is happening and she’s on the road, just listen. Don’t say much. Don’t try to activity it away. Just be with it as hard as it is.
5. Take care of you.
This is important because it doesn’t always mean what people think it means. A lot of well meaning friends may try and get you out and doing things or encourage you to see someone as well. But for you, taking care of you might mean that while your child is in a safe place, you crawl into bed and sleep. It may mean that you spend some time alone reflecting. It may mean that you make dozens of appointments and do a lot of research about your child so you can be of better help to them. It might mean you don’t want to or are not ready to talk about it all just yet. Be ok with that because that’s what it means to you to take care of yourself. It does not mean the same thing to every person so be gentle with yourself and know that you are doing the best that you can to take care of your child and your time will come. In the meantime, cut yourself some slack, binge watch netflix shows, stay in your pajamas, eat your feelings, talk or don’t talk, let yourself cry, let yourself laugh, go in between the two in a matter of a minute. Take care of you.
I’m always here to talk if anyone needs an ear. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. We could all use some support.