Is your child anxious? Depressed?
Finding support for you and your child is key to figuring out what to do next
Much has been written about the role anxiety and depression is playing in the lives of tweens and teens.
Issues such as “helicopter parenting;” the endless list of activities, expectations and volunteering needed to get into a good college, the stressors present in family dynamics and within all social worlds; and the constant barrage of information coming into our kid’s lives due to social media have left our kids drained and feeling overwhelmed at a much higher rate than in years past.
Although suffering from anxiety and depression has always been a part of most adolescent’s lives, the degree to which it has become debilitating is dramatically increasing.
Feeling stressed and exhausted, and often helpless and hopeless, has become a norm for too many youth. Not only does it impact their social and academic lives, it impacts their sleep, eating habits and overall emotional state.
Many parents describe their once vibrant and engaged son or daughter as reclusive, disengaged or agitated. They describe their child as sad or so angry that conversations with them are impossible. Some say their kid refuses to go to school because of how they are feeling. Often times, the parents feel helpless and hopeless and are desperate.
Calling a mental health provider is a great first step for parents and kids dealing with such debilitating depression and anxiety. Not only because therapists can be great supports for families during this time, but most importantly, therapists can help parents assess the severity and acuity of their child’s emotional state to make sure their child is safe.
Generally speaking, the three most important questions that need to be answered are:
• Are there concerns for safety?
• Is this anxiety and/or depression organic (biological) or environmental?
• Can we identify the stressors if the symptoms are stemming from outside forces?
The answers to these questions allow the therapist, the child and the parents to work toward creating a supportive and validating process that will allow the child to process through their emotions and build coping skills to help them move through their feelings.
If the child has an organic issue or the level of acuity is very high, medication can be used to help the child find cognitive clarity and help them process their thoughts and feelings.
Parents can also work with the school to help their child reengage with school. Some kids stop going to school because they are overwhelmed, only to become more stressed because of the homework they have missed. Kids can also feel a great deal of anxiety around their peers, worried that their friends are moving on without them.
Working with the school’s guidance department lets the teachers know what is going on and it allows for an additional support system for the child to rely on when returning. In addition to working with their therapist and the school, parents need each other. Many parents think their child is the only one suffering through these issues but so many parents are in the same boat.
Being a kid can be hard and being a parent can be just as hard. Recognizing that all families struggle and all kids run into hurdles along the way allows for parents to support each other.
Tracey Tucker is Executive Director of New Heights: Adventures for Teens and a licensed mental health counselor at Tradeport Counseling Associates in Portsmouth.