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 Self-esteem takes a knock, they may become withdrawn, aggressive or both, and they start to guard their privacy more closely than before.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.
“Beware, I will be a teenager in just 5 years!”
We were both shocked to hear this. He said it in a very light vein, and laughed aloud at his own joke. But it struck us like a bolt. He was leaving us clues all around. But I had been ignoring them all the while.
But that statement, one day as a warning to his father to stop teasing him for something silly, really stilled us.
My 8 year old son would be a teenager in just 5 years.
There were these times, when I used to beg him to go and have a shower all by himself, because I was either too tired or just wanted peace for those 2 minutes. But now he refuses to let me help him even with the clothes.
He used to drive me crazy with all his questions! It didn’t matter about what. There was always these – why, what, how! I used to give up and say, ‘I don’t know’ just for a minute’s silence. And then one day in sheer desperation I taught him to get his own answers from an Encyclopedia and then eventually taught him how to do a Google search. So, now I just help him with choosing appropriate links and guiding him with his quest for answers.
But I know when the house is quiet, I have nothing to fear, because he is just ‘working’ or ‘reading.’
There were those times, when he used to come running with math and subtraction and spellings. Now he says I will ask your help when I have doubts and even those instances are becoming few and infrequent.
He bravely bid me goodbye when I went away to Brazil for more than a fortnight. He was still only 8 years old. He called me every night with due consideration for the time difference and made sure it was always during the night when I was back in my hotel. All that time I had hoped that he and his father were thinking about me all the time. But later I came to find out, he had not asked much about me at all, except for casual occurrences. A sign that he wants to show he was growing up and speaking to mom was no big deal.
There were those first steps, first teeth, first boo-boo, first days of kindergarten, and grade school. There were a lot of those cherished firsts—some of which I remember, some I have to refer back to my diaries. However, now there are a lot of fresh new things happening at my place.
There have always been these milestones which we try to capture and remember. And then there are these times, when without your knowledge, your kids are starting to be all grown up and acting ready to leave the nest! And it comes as a shock, because you are still reveling in those milestones, imagining them to have happened just yesterday.
When he was one, I wished, he would grow up and get potty trained soon. At two, I wished he would grow up, so that he could start kindergarten. At three, I wished he would grow up sooner and start school. And I wished and wished. But now he is all grown up at 8 years old and I know he will be a teenager before I know it and have his life starting up.
I liked the time when he was still a baby and cuddled. And I liked it when he was silly and a toddler. I liked kindergarten and alphabets and numbers and sticking out the fingers and counting. Now I also like his new found discovery of finding out that he is all grown up too.
I just have to accept that some day he will be assisting me with things. He will be all grown up. And will have a life of his own. He is a individual with a mind and heart of his own. And no longer an entity of myself. Some day, he will go out college and then to work and start a family.
It is all bittersweet. Sometimes I get lost. I do not know if I have my baby or a big kid. Sometimes he gives me reassurances that I would always be his amma, and then it strikes me that he does not want me to feel lost about his growing up. It is cute, at the same time, it is a moment of revelation.
It is a sign that, time happens!
Time happens, way too fast and it is a rush to just be in the moment and enjoy and revel in it. But I am trying because my son—who was born just yesterday—will be a teenager in just 5 years!
How old are your ‘babies?’ How are you handling their growing up and how are they realizing it?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Purnima, our Indian mother writing from Chennai, India. Her contributions to the World Moms Blog can be found here. She also rambles at The Alchemist’s Blog.
Photo credit to the author.
This week’s Saturday Sidebar is a spin on one of the writing prompts from Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop:
“What is one piece of advice you would give your teenage self?”
Check out what some of our World Moms had to say…
Ms. V of South Korea writes:
“That perfection is both impossible and undesirable so spending any time trying to be perfect is a waste of time. Less work, more play!”
Mamma Simona of South Africa writes:
“You’re NOT fat and worthless!! Trust your instincts about people. It’s YOUR life to live; so stop wasting time thinking you’re just ‘not good enough’! You ARE worthy of unconditional love, so be as kind to yourself as you are to others.” (more…)