How do you know?
How do you know if your teenager is suffering from anxiety and/or depression?
Mike King has told us “You won’t really know unless they tell you.” And he’s right, you can have all the suspicions in the world, but unless your teen actually tells you then you won’t be 100% certain.
There are a few clues that may help you though:
An awareness that something isn’t quite right. Call it intuition, gut feel, finger on the pulse but you may have an inkling.
Keep an eye on how much your teen is sleeping (or not). If you are a person who needs a good nights sleep this can be really tricky and you will need to rely on your teen’s honesty as well as physical cues like bags under the eyes or yawning. Make it a point to talk about their sleep.
Your teen is moody or withdrawn (really hard I know, sometimes this is ‘normal’ teen behavior!)
Regular activities (including friends) that they have previously enjoyed suddenly don’t hold any interest. They also withdraw themselves from family traditions in order to spend time by themselves.
You haven’t heard them laugh or sing for a while and smiles aren’t common anymore.
Probably it will boil down to a unique combination of all of the above.
Bear in mind that admitting “I’m not okay” is a really traumatic and difficult thing for a lot of teens (actually lots of people) to do. So if in doubt, do have a chat with your child. Reassure them that its okay not to feel okay and that you’re there to help and support them in any way. Don’t wait for them to come to you – in busy families this is something you don’t want to overlook. By its very nature depression is a sneaky beast. It relies on being kept out of sight and not discussed to grow and flourish. Your teen may very well want to tell you they’re not okay, but its highly possible the overriding thought pattern inside their head will be saying “Don’t tell.”
One thing about depression is that it often creeps up quite slowly. What may start as a case of the blues can gradually turn into depression.
You know your child the best. Trust yourself. Have the conversation. And sometimes you may need to have more than one conversation.
Depression is an illness. Illness is never convenient, it is frustrating, time consuming and putting everything on hold is never easy. If you are a super busy parent it can be one of those things that they don’t even want to acknowledge themselves by talking to you (or anyone) about it.
It is really important to know that suicidal thoughts don’t like to be acknowledged. Acknowledgement will thwart them, and potentially may stop them in their tracks. Your teen may acknowledge that they’re not great, but insist that they’re handling it. Great. But keep watch. Don’t think of it as a done deal. And keep talking.
Reaching out to your teen may be something you have to do more than once, and you may not be the person they turn to at first. They may tell their friends, or another adult, or a sibling, or someone on social media. Its not that they don’t trust you.
Actually none of this is about you. It’s not about your parenting style, or your life circumstances. This is about how they see themselves in their world.
Right now its a good time for you to reach out and get some help. This can take many forms and may include
talking about your concerns with a friend or family member
Visiting your doctor, or a naturopath
You know your own child best and you will know how best to handle the scenarios as they unfold. There is no right or wrong here. You will just do what it takes.