Our Family’s Experience With Teen Depression
As my daughter, Elise, began to show signs of depression in her early teen years, my husband and I basically swept it under the rug. We assumed she was going through the normal struggles of spiking emotions and changes brought on by puberty.
As her symptoms intensified over the next year, we saw Elise’s mental state take her to a dark place. She was withdrawn and inattentive. We felt very often that she couldn’t stand to be around us, though not long before we had spent so much enjoyable time together. She was filled with self-hatred, constantly criticizing her talents and looks. We missed our happy and carefree daughter from the past.
Elise attempted to take her life her sophomore year of high school. We did not see it coming because she had stopped talking to us about her feelings some time before. Her father and I had assumed that she was happier, as she vocalized her negativity to us less often.
This was a wake up call for our family. We no longer dismissed her fits and isolation as typical teen behavior. We learned that we needed to pay close attention to Elise’s needs, and that we needed to find substantial help from a qualified therapist.
The guilt and fear my husband and I felt during this time was indescribable. I constantly wondered what I could have done differently, and I was sure that a larger effort on my part could have prevented her suicide attempt. I began to obsess and hover; I was constantly in her space, questioning her state of mind, and pushing myself on her. But that wasn’t the answer.
Thanks to plenty of research, conversations with friends and our family therapist, and trial and error, I learned that there are very helpful, simple steps to take to help my teen manage her depression.
Dealing With Your Teen’s Depression
Implementing the following can assist you as you help your teen (or any family member) who is struggling with depression:
- Accept the situation. Instead of feeling guilty and being stuck in that mental rut, I had to accept that my daughter’s illness was not a reflection of my parenting abilities. It wasn’t a matter of knowing enough as a mother, but more importantly, a matter of seeking the right kind of professional help so our daughter could take back control of her mental health.
- Educate yourself about depression. Learning about depression helped our whole family to understand our situation better and how we could better help our daughter.
- Take care of yourself. I had to remember to care for myself amidst the extreme mental obstacles my daughter was facing and the inner turmoil I was experiencing as her mom. As much as I wanted to focus all my attention and energy on Elise, I realized that I needed to have my own healthy ways to cope and keep fighting. Keeping up with my interests and having a personal support system to fall back on was crucial.
- Get proactive about seeking professional help. We explored every treatment option available as parents and then included Elise in reviewing these options to choose a route we (mostly Elise) were all comfortable with. Research has now shown that a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provides the best outcome in treating depression among teens, and we found this to be the best course for our family.
- Offer genuine support. In spite of her withdrawal and occasional hostility, Elise needed us more than ever and we just didn’t realize this in the beginning. Now we offer her genuine support, a listening ear, and a healthy distraction during her toughest days.
Depression in Your Family
Despite the high rates of teen depression in the US, we may remain ignorant and imagine it will never touch our kids. After all, we’ve brought them up well and they have all the comforts they need, so why would they be depressed? Even when our teens become belligerent and hostile or more withdrawn and uncommunicative than usual, we are quick to blame it on normal teen rebellion, never imagining that these symptoms could point to a deeper problem.
When a diagnosis is made, many of us find ourselves fighting a lonely battle as mothers of depressed teens. Thanks to the stigma associated with mental illness, we tend to deny what is afflicting our teens. We don’t want something so awful attached to the beautiful child we brought to this world.
Then there is the almost constant guilt as you blame yourself for failing as a parent. Surely there’s something you could have done differently? You also feel angry, confused, and uncertain about what depression now means for your family. As if that’s not enough to deal with, you have to contend with the frustration and exhaustion of trying to get your teen to eat, get dressed, or go to school. Sometimes, they can hardly get out of bed.
However, with the right treatment and support, you can help your teen through depression. It definitely isn’t easy and can be scary at times, but through my challenging experiences with my daughter’s depression, I can attest that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. I’m grateful that my daughter has made great strides in managing her mental health through the use of the steps mentioned above, and that I could be her guiding light and support through it all. It has taught me more than I ever thought possible about the value and work behind being a mom.
QUESTION: Is anyone in your family suffering from a mental health issue? Is she/he getting adequate support?
CHALLENGE: Take some time to educate yourself about mental health issues. If you suspect someone in your family of having a mental health issue, schedule an evaluation with a professional so that you can all get the help you need. And if you have teens, talk to them about mental health issues and make sure they know they can always ask for help, either from you or a crisis service (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline).
Edited by Kimberly Price and Nollie Haws.
Image from the author; graphics by Anna Jenkins.