Outing Mental Illness: In Ourselves, In Our Kids

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Last week, a well-known designer, Kate Spade committed suicide leaving a husband of 24 years and her 13 year old daughter. It seemed that her depression was very well hidden. Two days later, another high-profile suicide—Anthony Bourdain also leaving an 11 year old daughter. Last week, in my newspaper, the top story discussed how suicide rates are climbing dramatically. So, it is also for our tweens and teens—as early as 9 or 10 years of age.

Depression in kids can look different than in adults. It often comes out in behaviors and sometimes the depressive mood is not as apparent.

What to do? As parents of tweens and teens, we are told to give our children space. It is so hard to figure out the line between being invasive and being there for our kids. And so, we can feel hesitant to ask the questions, to offer assistance to our kids especially if they are not talking to us.

We can feel really, really shut out and desperate to help AND we struggle so much witnessing their pain.

If we see them isolating, refusing to do things they used to be interested in and they are not replacing these old interests with new ones. If they are starting to vape, smoke, drink or get on their devices to excess. Failing grades, anger, irritation, shutting us out, acting out.

Many of kids may be trying out new behaviors—they may be influenced by their peers, but sometimes, they are trying to fill the gap of insecurity, fears, stress, lack of sleep, sadness that may be just too hard to bear.

But how to know the difference? And how do you approach your child?

Take a Hard Look at Your Own Bias and Shame

Come to accept that mental illness is an illness just like strep throat or a chronic condition such as diabetes. If your child showed signs of having Diabetes 1, you would be getting him or her to the doctor—stat! Right?

So, let go of the sense of shame and belief that you are a failure as a parent. EVERYONE of us has challenges and as much as we hope that our kids walk a golden, smooth path, we accept the child we have in front of us, the path they are on right now and that we are doing our BEST. And by accepting what is in front of us, we can help create in our child acceptance for his or her own struggles and the strength within them to reach out for help when they need it.

Name it with Love

Then identify your own concerns and name them. Sometimes, your child may have a very difficult time putting his or her words around the feelings. Often there may be shame. So simply naming what you observe with love and concern can be one of the most powerful first steps towards healing. Because whatever we can shine the light on, cannot fester.

Normalize, Normalize, Normalize

Your child likely feels like he or she is out there in that vacuum alone. When we deeply believe that the path our child is on right now does not have to be the one he or she stays on, we can help our child begin to feel hope—that this is a temporary dark place, that others are on the same path with them, AND that we are on the path beside them. That the hard, dark places are part of life: disappointments, loss, failure.

But so is joy, love, meaning and purpose as well.

Sharon Burris-Brown M.S.W. National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach is a stress and parent coach. She helps parents become their kids’ # 1 teacher to cultivate strong, healthy and empowered kids. 

If you would like to schedule a FREE strategy call with her to talk about your concerns about your kids and your family, click here.

If you would like to join my FREE Facebook group: Raising Empowered Tweens and Teens for the 21st Century, click here.