I’ll never forget the look on Keith’s dad’s face at the hospital—a combination of fear, sadness, relief, stunned confusion, and gratitude. His son had attempted to take his own life but survived. “I knew things weren’t easy for him, but I just never wanted to believe my son would ever do anything like this.” I befriended Keith while working for an organization that reaches out to teenagers. He struggled socially when I met him but still had an upbeat disposition. As the years passed, that changed to increasing darkness, irritability, and depression. Thankfully, Keith and his family got help.
Kids experience all sorts of emotions in childhood, particularly in the tween and teen years. Some days, they are down, sad, or act out. It’s natural. However, when your child is consistently being disruptive, experiencing prolonged sadness (two weeks or longer), and/or chronic pain, withdrawing, or no longer desiring to do the things that used to bring enjoyment, there may be something deeper going on. Have you watched the smile disappear from your child’s face and come to the conclusion, “my child is depressed”? This is what you need to do.
Don’t wait.Disregarding symptoms of depression is like sweeping a dead animal under the rug.
You can’t assume this will go away on its own or work itself out. Be proactive. Disregarding symptoms of depression is like sweeping a dead animal under the rug. It will linger or perhaps spiral to an even worse place. You need to deal with it. In a situation like this, it is better to overreact than underreact.
Talk to them.
Let them know you are there for them. Ask questions—mainly how they feel about circumstances, friendships, and difficult experiences. Get down to their eye level. Listen a lot before injecting opinions or trying to make everything all right. Validate their feelings. Give them plenty of empathy and understanding. Affirm that they are not alone.
Take them to the doctor.
There could be something physically wrong. Taking them in for a routine physical is a good way to identify or rule out biological diagnoses. Speaking to a medical doctor will give you direction, options, and peace of mind.
These are serious issues and you need the help of professionals. Have your child meet with a licensed therapist who is able to do an evaluation. Someone trained for this will be able to spot specific points of concern and provide pointers for how to move toward healing. If necessary, have your child meet with the therapist regularly. Be sure to ask plenty of questions regarding what you can do at home to continue the progression to health.
Pay close attention to your child’s demeanor. Listen for words that convey hopelessness and self-degradation. Get them talking as much as possible. There could be warning signs that they are in dangerous waters. If they give any reference to suicide, dying, or a desire to disappear, act right away. Don’t leave them alone and seek help immediately.
Sound off: Have any of your children ever suffered from depression? How did you respond to it?
The name used in this post is fictitious, to protect the privacy of the child whose story is shared.
Huddle up with your kids tonight and ask, “Who do you like to talk to when you feel sad?”