About a week before Halloween last year, a teenage boy named Joshua committed suicide. He had graduated Grade 8 at my son’s school just four months previously, and in September he had started attending the local high school across the road. Everything was going well. He was adjusting to high school and making new friends, and he was happy.
Except he wasn’t.
About six weeks after the start of the new school year, Joshua’s younger brother Tommy needed help with his homework. He knocked on Joshua’s bedroom door and went in, expecting to see Joshua hard at work on his own homework. Instead, Tommy saw the body of his brother hanging from the curtain rail by a belt.
Nobody knows what drove Joshua to such a tragic extreme. He never spoke of any crises, there was no bullying that anyone was aware of, and he seemed to be fitting in well at his new school. In the absence of any other answers, Joshua’s family are slowly arriving at the conclusion that this was a case of teen depression that was never detected.
What makes teen depression so hard to identify is that so many of the symptoms and warning signs are seen as just a part of being an adolescent. As young people experience the firestorm of pubescent hormones, they start to speak and act differently. They become self-conscious about their bodies, they display the infamous “teenage attitude”, they fight all kinds of internal battles as they try to figure out who they are. Self-esteem takes a knock, they may become withdrawn, aggressive or both, and they start to guard their privacy more closely than before.
Yes, all of these things are typical teenage behaviours. But they are also typical behaviours of people experiencing depression.
It creates a minefield for parents, who have to balance respect for their child’s growing need for privacy with enough vigilance to know when something is wrong.
The Canadian statistics surrounding youth and mental illness are deeply troubling:
- Up to 20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness
- Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world
- Suicide accounts for 24% of teen deaths in Canada – the second leading cause of death in this age group
(Source: Centre for Addiction & Mental Health)
So what can we as parents do to keep our children safe from the ravages of mental illness? How do we tell if a teen is just being a teen or if there is something else going on? I did an informal survey of parents, teachers and mental health practitioners, and this is the advice they had to offer:
- Create open lines of communication with your children from as early an age as possible. If they grow up knowing they can talk to you about anything, they will be more likely to approach you if something is wrong.
- Make mental health a topic of conversation in your household, just as you talk about physical health. You encourage your kids to tell you if they are not feeling physically well – the same should happen if they are not feeling mentally well.
- Allow your teen to have privacy, but establish an understanding that his or her privacy only goes so far. Social media accounts should be set up under your supervision, and you should know the passwords.
- Ensure that your teen has access to a trusted adult apart from you. Every adolescent has things that they are not comfortable talking to their own parents about, but they still need guidance on those things. It could be an aunt or uncle, a teacher, or a family friend.
- Watch out for changes in behaviour patterns. It is normal for teens to go through periods of being irritable or emotional. If it lasts for a longer time than usual, or if it is accompanied by changes to eating or sleeping patterns, there might be something going on.
- If your teen starts to wear clothing that doesn’t make sense – such as long sleeves in summer – they may be hiding the marks of self-injury.
- When in doubt, simply ask. Many teens struggle alone with depression or anxiety because they simply don’t know how to talk about it. All they need is for the conversation to be opened.
Teen depression – or any mental illness – is very frightening for the teenager, and for the loved ones. The bad news is that right now, mental health services are only being provided to one in five Canadian kids who need them – mostly because the need is not being identified. The good news is that in the vast majority of cases, getting help can make a huge positive difference in the lives of these kids.
How do you approach discussions of mental illness in your family? Have you ever had to seek treatment for a child or a teenager suffering from a mental illness?
Today, January 27th, is Bell Let’s Talk day in Canada. For every tweet using the #BellLetsTalk hashtag, and for every Facebook share of the image in this post, Bell Canada will donate five cents to mental health initiatives.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Kirsten Doyle. Image courtesy of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign for mental health awareness.
I don’t ever remember not feeling this way. I just know from an early age that I felt things a little deeper than my other friends or family. My feelings could be hurt so easily, and when I was little, I remember crying for days after my Grandma would leave from a visit because I missed her so much.
As I got older and went into high school, I still felt things very deeply, but didn’t want others to know if something bothered me. I would cover it up in front of others and cry when I would get home. Which sounds like most teen age girls, I know. But, this was a little different. I would try to cover up my feelings of inadequacy and then my feelings turned to anxiety over whether other people would know how sensitive I really was.
Something would happen during the day and it would stay with me for days afterward. I would think about it over and over and then the anxiety led to feelings of such sadness and it seemed like a pit I could never get out of. My parents noticed that I was sad a lot, and they did talk to me. I know they cared, but it was like nothing could take away the anxiety and sadness. They thought I was just a teenage girl with overactive hormones.
In college, I studied hard and tried to be the “good girl”. I knew I wasn’t perfect, and I tried so hard to cover up my imperfections. By this point, I was really good at covering up my true feelings of how I felt inside. I worried obsessively about almost everything and doubted myself in the process. I could go for days without eating because my stomach was in knots. Exam time was the worst. I would go over and over in my head what I put for answers. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and that obsessive worrying led to such sadness that it was hard to even get out of bed some days.
I remember my first job out of college and coming home so exhausted that it was all I could do to wash my face and roll into bed at night.
I remember looking in the mirror and wondering what people would think of me if they saw me just like I was…red eyes, bags underneath them, my complexion broken out…would people really want to see the real me…or the “me” I show to them everyday.
I worried so much about everything being perfect in my classroom that some evenings, I would have to force myself to go home because I probably could have stayed all night to make everything just right. Right about that time, a new song came out on the radio by P!ink called “Don’t Let me Get Me”. I remember some of the lyrics to that song, “Don’t let me get me…I’m my own worst enemy.” I had never heard a song describe so perfectly how I had always been feeling inside.
Why was I so critical of myself? Why could I never cut myself a break?
At about the same time, I remember talking with my mother on the phone and pouring my heart out to her. She suggested that I should go and talk to someone and maybe I would feel better about things.
I did go ahead and talk with someone and discovered that I did suffer and probably had been suffering from anxiety and depression for most of my life. I remember feeling so ashamed of hearing her tell me that. Wasn’t that a sign of weakness if I couldn’t just will myself to be happy?
To make a VERY long story a bit shorter, I fought the idea that I had anything wrong with me for a few years until one day when my husband came home from work, I just cried in his arms for almost an hour and I could see in his eyes he didn’t know what to do. I knew it was time for me to really try to take control of this thing that seemed to be taking control of me. After coming to that point, I decided that it was time to face what I had been running away from for so long. With some help, I learned how I could manage my anxiety better which also helped with my depression.
When I stayed home with my children and stopped teaching, I poured my all into being a mother. I was and still am so very happy that I was able to become a mother to two amazing human beings. But, it is still a struggle with myself each and everyday to keep my nagging anxious thoughts at bay and not let them overwhelm my mind. Now that I know what it is, it is so much easier to face it.
Then, a few weeks ago, my seven year old daughter came home from school and we were talking about her day and she told me that she thought she hadn’t done well on a test at school. I asked her why and then she started to cry and told me it was because she wasn’t as smart as the other children in her class. I told her that of course she was just as smart or smarter than those other students and that she should know that.
She said, “No, I don’t. I always feel like I am not as good as them.”
OUCH!!!! That struck a chord with me. How had this happened? I was supposed to be the “good” mom. I had never once told my daughter that she wasn’t good enough. In fact, we had done just the opposite. My husband and I have actually always been both her and my son’s personal cheerleaders. Where did this come from? I gave her a big hug and told her not to worry about her test and that it would all be fine. She had her snack and went to change her clothes. As she walked away, I got tears in my eyes. I know part of growing up is having feelings of not being good enough, but I also know how it feels to carry that feeling with you your whole life. That was not what I wanted for my daughter.
That night after the kids went to bed, I told my husband what she had said and other things I had noticed that made me worry that she was feeling low about herself. He said, “Have you looked in the mirror? She is a little you.” My husband has always been my cheerleader, and can always see the good in me even if I don’t see it. And, I know he always tells me the truth even when I may not be ready to hear it.
Over the next few days, I thought about what he had said and how I had felt growing up. I was determined that I would do everything in my power to help my daughter to not feel that way. When I was young, no one really ever talked about feelings of depression or anxiety. It was just attributed to people being too soft or high spirited.
Today, even though it isn’t always openly talked about, we can now talk about anxiety and depression without as much stigma being attached to it. My hope is that my daughter and my son do not have to struggle for years because people are too embarrassed to talk about it. I hope that my children do not have to go through what I went through.
I know this post may be a little too personal for some, but I am hoping that we, as mothers, take notice of our children if we think they are exhibiting signs of increased anxiety or depression. It can start young or later on and maybe not all for some. But, if your child had a heart condition or broke a limb, you would do whatever you could to help your child. Talking about depression or any other mental illness needs to be the same thing.
My hope is that by writing about this, it will help keep the dialogue going that seems to be starting to rumble in recent years about mental health. People who are suffering from mental illness are truly suffering inside and they need to know that is okay to reach out to someone without feeling embarrassed or scared.
These days, I have a new favorite song by Mary Lambert entitled “Secrets”. It is such a liberating song (but don’t listen to it around your kids…it does have a little bad language). It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly, I have become a friend to myself. I am seeing that it is okay to be kind and give myself a break. I am consciously choosing to be positive to myself and in the process, I am finding out I am really not so bad.
My hope is that my own positive outlook and self talk will emanate to my daughter. When she looks in her own mirror, I want her to see someone who is strong, beautiful and good. And, if we need to get a little extra help along the way, then so be it. Life is a journey and we are all a work in progress.
Have you or your children struggled with anxiety or depression? How have you handled it?
This is an original post to world Moms Blog by Meredith. you can check out her adventures as living as an expat in Nigeria and her transition back on her blog at www.wefoundhappiness.blogspot.com.
The photo in this post has a creative commons attribute license.
I didn’t have a bad marriage.
I wasn’t beaten or mistreated.
My ex never had an affair.
Money stressors were manageable.
We rarely argued.
To the outside world we seemed absolutely fine. But we weren’t.
It was, for me, an intensely sad marriage. And for a long time I couldn’t work out why. Here was a perfectly pleasant man who wished me well and who responded to my affection. He worked hard and was what most of us would call a “good guy”. He still is. But my self-esteem was dropping and my mood was becoming a habitual mix of frustration and melancholy.
It was one of those slow drifts downwards, like water eroding rock.
Then, around 10 years ago, he was diagnosed with something call Alexithymia. It’s not a mental disorder but more of a fixed personality trait. It’s common in those formally on the autism spectrum, in those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders and in some of us with attachment issues from our early childhood.
Basically, anyone with Alexithymia cannot identify the bodily sensations that go along with their emotions. They still have the same sensations but are unable to distinguish between them and label them. They also have a very limited imaginative life, which sounds fine, until you realise predicting outcomes and taking steps to avoid the less desirable ones, are in fact, a product of our imagination.
These two issues give rise to a deep lack of empathy and ability to relate to another human being. Sympathy –the intellectual understanding of the experience of another–can happen but the actual feeling of an emotion, as another has it, in the sense of true empathy, cannot.
For me, this meant I would have to be sobbing in front of my ex before he understood I was sad, and then have to tell him to give me a hug, as the appropriate response. He did not mean to be uncaring. He just never understood subtle body language or had the instinctive responses that most of us have.
There are always three choices in a situation: To alter it; to put up with it; or to leave.
For many years I did my best to see if things could change. I offered to go back to work, so he could get therapy. I suggested counselling, on more than one occasion. None of these offers were ever taken up.
The more I read about Alexithymia, the more I realised… I would never be taken up on any of these. People with Alexithymia see the rest of us as over-emotional and confusing. They cannot see why they would leave their completely logical realms. Their idea of a perfect partner is a kind body in the house with whom there is as little emotional deviation and routines are maintained – this was exactly what our marriage was.
As time went by, I became increasingly distant and detached. At times, I became unpleasant and down right bitchy. Then, around three years ago, someone asked me what made me happy. And I couldn’t tell them. From being someone who was a perpetual optimist, I was by then emotionally dead – aside from experiencing frustration and melancholy. It was a massive wake up call and I knew something had to change.
It did take three years for me to be ready. There is a comfort in familiarity that is enticing. But in the end, my physical body was beginning to suffer, my older boys were finding the emotional disconnect from their father tough going and the other side of the leap to leave seemed less stressful than staying.
I am sure I was by no means the perfect partner either. But I share this here because these are immensely lonely and soul-destroying relationships to be in – and many who are in them either think they are going crazy or that they are the only ones ever to have this experience or some combination of both. But neither are true.
You’re not crazy. You’re not alone. The shell of the outside relationship that the world sees is not the whole story.
Have you ever known someone with Alexithymia? Tell us your tale.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our long-time contributor and mother to three in New Zealand, Karyn Sparkles Willis.
The image used in this post is attributed to Nathan Jones. It carries a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.
When it comes to introducing serious business to my 8 year old and my 6 year old, I have noticed that I often use metaphors. Not the euphemism kind, like ‘Grandma went to sleep for a very long time‘, but the raw truth in a friendly package.
As it is, I’m healing from a depression I have long been ignoring. Today, I don’t intend to talk about depression though. Those stories sadly are plenty, including here and there on World Moms Blog. As always, I prefer to talk about my kids.
They both know something is wrong with their mommy. They know I have an illness that is mostly settled in my head, but that makes my body overly tired and trembling as well. They also know there are a lot of people helping me to cure from this illness called depression. I believe it is important to be honest. They will sense something is out of the hook anyway.
In fact, it wasn’t difficult to explain to them at all. They were even ecstatic about it, because it meant their mommy would be at home from work for a very long time. They experience my sick leave as an extended holiday with lots of mommy-time.
But I did owe them some further explanation. You see, at the deepest moments of my depression, I was easily irritated. Way too easily. That’s where the metaphor comes in. I talked to them about my Balloon. I believe you can use the Balloon when you’re not suffering from depression, but just irritated or angry because of stress at work, in your relationship, or just because of, well, life.
You see, we all have a Balloon somewhere inside us. Mine is inside my tummy. My Balloon is filled with old anger and sorrow that has been nagging at me for years. When I’m stressed about work, traffic or household issues, the new sorrows will pile up inside the Balloon. Most people have Balloons that grew larger while they were growing up, but mine didn’t. I still have a very small one. And it’s almost constantly full.
The kids, they know what happens with a regular balloon that is just too full. It will explode with a scary bang. They really dread that sound.
Now, sometimes, when they are acting up, those little annoyances can be the final blow that make my little Balloon pop. I want them to understand that such explosions are not their fault at all. Almost nothing of which was already filling the Balloon is their doing. It’s mostly old stuff, from the time before they were even born.
The sick leave, the medication and all the doctors are now helping me to empty my Balloon. If I really try hard, I will even get a bigger one. That way, it won’t pop as easily any more.
I didn’t know whether they really understood, until my 6 year old girl came to me after another Balloon collapse. I wanted to apologize, but she shushed me.
You don’t need to say sorry, mommy. We understand. Your Balloon was just too full.
I apologized anyway, while cleaning up the invisible remains of my Balloon.
They deserve that much.
Do you use metaphors to talk about difficult subjects with your kids? Which ones?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K @ The Penguin and The Panther.
“Black toy balloon” by AJ – Open clip Art Library image’s page. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons
As a wife of one and a mom of four, it seems like I am always learning and discovering! I know I am not alone. Let’s just admit it: The world is a big place, life is a lesson, and children can be the best teachers. Normally my series, Life Lessons with Mexico Mom, is hosted on Los Gringos Locos, but today I am posting here on World Moms Blog.
Here are my insights and experiences as a Mexico Mom for this week:
Life Lesson 25: The city of Morelia, Mexico may shut off your water at any time without given notice. If this happens make sure your water tank is full! We have to press a switch to fill our water tank every other day or so. If we forget, we are without water for a few minutes. If the city turns off the water, we may be without water for a day. Then our wonderful landlord brings us a huge barrel of water for the toilets and the dishes. Yea!
Life Lesson 26: Driving through Morelia you could very well see a naked woman in the middle of the street. Unfortunately there is not much government help for the poor and mentally ill in our city. This part is actually very sad. My husband saw this poor lady, stark naked, with a pile of clothes in front of her. Chances are she was homeless and mentally ill. Cars were slowing down and people were staring. Brad was flabbergasted. There is not much he could have done for her. She would probably have been scared of my large, white husband.
Life Lesson 27: It is not necessary to have a stove and oven. Since we moved into our new house a month ago I have been without this appliance. I miss it dearly and hope to purchase one very soon. But on the upside, we have discovered just how much you can cook on a grill. Banana bread, pancakes, casseroles, scrambled eggs, quesadillas, pulled pork, and lots more! Brad has become a professional grill chef. Cooking is not my forte, so I am loving it!
What life lesson did you learn this past week? Please share it with us below. We want to hear your thoughts from around the world!
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tina Marie Ernspiker. Tina can be found blogging over at Los Gringos Locos. She is also on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo credit to A. Hurst Photography
It has been nearly two years since I asked for help.
Motherhood and life felt like too much of a burden for me. After years of thinking that the problem was me, it finally dawned on me that there might be something wrong.
I started therapy and found out that I had suffered from postpartum depression. Not once but three times. I also found out that the feelings I struggled with in my early teens were not just regular teen struggles. I found out that it was also depression that I had struggled with.
These past two years have been the most intense years of my life. I have experienced tremendous growth. I have opened new doors and have closed old doors behind me.
People talk about therapy lightly. They think therapy is nothing more than paying someone to listen and to give you advice. Therapy is no such thing. Therapy is facing yourself. Therapy is opening doors and looking into the dark corners of your soul. It is work. Hard work that sometimes leaves you exhausted. Being as courageous, as walking into a lion’s den unarmed. Vulnerable. It is raw naked honesty and perseverance. Going down a steep, rocky and sometimes dark road without knowing when you will reach the end of it. It’s knowing that you can decide to leave that road at any moment, yet not giving in to that thought. Because you want to get well.
For the past two years I have been going down this road. To say it has been a roller coaster ride, is to take a devastating hurricane and to call it a warm summer’s breeze. The hardest part? Being a mother at the same time.
There is no time off. No time to lick my wounds or to take a break. When I come out of therapy I need to step quickly into my mommy shoes. Some days I come out of therapy feeling empowered. I stand tall and firm and switch roles like a pro. Other days I feel delivered, freed from a burden that has been carried for way too long. Those are the days that my mommy shoes feel like dancing shoes. Then there are days that I am exhausted from the hard work and I feel empty with little left to give. On those days my Mommy shoes are put on reluctantly.
Some days the carefully constructed bandages around my heart are ripped from their place and old wounds are exposed. My heart breaks and scatters into a thousand pieces. An hour passes as I work through the pain. When the clock strikes reality, I hastily gather the pieces and put them back into place as best I can. I wear my mommy shoes, and though it is I that longs to be nurtured, it is I that gives the loving smile; it is I that spreads my arms in welcome; I that carries and I that offers warmth and shelter.
On such days my feet struggle to find solid ground underneath my shoes. When my child reaches for me, my grasp is firm. And as I hold her little warm hand softly in mine, the ground underneath my feet gradually feels stable again.
Have you ever experienced something, that made it hard for you to step back into your ‘Mommy shoes’? I would love to hear about it.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our author in the Netherlands, Mirjam.
The image used in this post is credited to the author.