Would you like to know what's going on inside the intricacies of your child's developing mind? Of course many parents would! What if I told you that chances are your child may be wrestling with their first, second, or even third bout of depression? As a counselor, I see many kids (predominately teenagers in my practice) throughout the year, and many have confided in me their feelings of sadness, loneliness and issues with self esteem. However, some of the most concerning things I've heard from kids have been that their parents don't seem to care or notice. So how can you pay attention to you child's symptoms?
Don't be the "toughen up" parent
Kids statistically spend more time at school than at home with their families. Therefore peers and friends whether in person and online, become their main source of support. In my experience talking to kids many have confided that they've not informed parents first of issues involving self harm or depressive thoughts, but their friends they trust. Sometimes situations involving depression have spiraled so out of control that crisis interventions were required on behalf of friends or school administrators THEN parents.
Some of the reasons kids have told me they opted to talk to friends first versus parents was due to fear of emotional rejection. Many are afraid they will punished for their feelings or made fun of by their parents for not being emotionally tough. And, unfortunately, I've been witness to many parents who have done just that in my office! As a parent, I can imagine the difficulty of juggling a job (whether it's in or outside of the house), time with your children, time with significant others, and other miscellaneous tasks. However, it is crucial to validate your child's feelings as something normal that occurs, and to pay attention to things that seem out of the ordinary for your child. For instance, behaviorally are they isolating themselves more in their room? Do they seem to be wanting more physical attention than normal? Are they crying more often? Have their friend groups changed? Do they suddenly have more energy than they did a few days or weeks ago? If so, it's time to talk with them.
Don't brush off self harm as a "fad"
You have probably heard the term self harm or more popularly referred to as "cutting" in the news or in the media. Self harm by definition is not limited to cutting behavior, but can also encompass burning, scratching, punching, pinching, or bruising to name a few. Many kids, especially teenagers suffering from depression can be susceptible to self harm behaviors as a way to release emotional pain. The most typical form has been cutting. Information about self harming and ways to do it can also be found in numerous places online or among peers that your child can easily access from any device. The popular and controversial tv show "13 Reasons Why" has also raised questions of whether forms of self harm are mere cries for attention or actual red flags of concern. In my practice, it has truthfully been both. However, all cases should be treated with concern and seriousness until further assessed.
Most parents who discover their child is self harming have expressed concern and have sought out appropriate help or crisis channels. However, there are some that simply believe their child is seeking attention, and that the self harm should not be taken seriously. Ultimately, the behavior of the self harm should be properly evaluated by a trained mental health professional to determine whether the self harm is a gesture of emotional release, a cry for attention, or a suicide attempt. Healthier coping skills should also be discussed and set in place for your child with the help of their counselor, and periodic assessments should be performed on your child's existing symptoms to determine reduction or increase. So don't assume the first, third, or even seventh self harm occurrence is simply a cry for attention. It could very well be, but it could also be a sign that the depression has yet to be resolved or has worsened.
Be the supportive parent they want and need
All in all your child ultimately relies on you for their emotional guidance. When you turn your back on your child's problems, whether it be depression related, academic issues, or self esteem concerns, they learn that the world cannot be trusted for help. Many kids, teens, and adults struggle with issues of self harm, but they don't have to do it alone. If you are unsure of what to do to help, don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional such as myself, or local crisis center.
If you feel your child is struggling with symptoms of depression, call the local Grand Junction crisis center listed below. You can also contact the national suicide prevention hotline or text number.
Grand Junction Crisis:
Mind Springs Health
24/7 Crisis hotline: 888.207.4004
24/7 Colorado Statewide Crisis: 844.493.TALK (8255)
24/7 Textline: Text TALK to 38255
Devin Pinkston is a local mental health counselor and Gender Therapist in Grand Junction Colorado. Call to schedule your free consultation today at 970-644-2392