The untimely deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have left me feeling unsettled. Maybe you feel the same way too. Suicide in the news will often cause us to wonder about our own loved ones. We become extra attentive to our children's emotional status and even fearful that there could be something quietly happening beneath our awareness. As parents, our fierce instincts to protect our children kick in, and we become hypervigilant - constantly looking for warning signs of trouble ahead, hoping that we will see it before it's too late.
If you're antennas are up, that's good. You have step one done.
But we can do better than that.
You will be relieved to know that you are not alone in this effort. Just a few months ago in February 2018, the Academy of Pediatrics updated their guidelines in the form of an annual universal screening for depression for kids ages 12 and up. This change is aimed at catching the kids falling through the cracks, and unfortunately, there are many.
According to the CDC, as many as 2 in 3 depressed teens don't get the care that can help them. Suicide among teens and young adults has nearly tripled since the 1940's.
If we have any chance at reversing this tragic trend, it starts with arming everyone who works with or loves a child, with knowledge.
So, let's get to the point - here's what you need to know.
Know the symptoms of depression.
Increased agitation or irritability, excessive crying, social withdrawal
Persistent feelings of sadness, mood swings, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, hopelessness
Poor concentration, indecisiveness, thoughts of suicide
Weight gain or loss of 10 lb. or more in a short period of time, low energy, and problems with sleep
Oftentimes, symptoms become obvious to others when a child's school performance significantly declines or they withdraw from social life and spending time with friends.
Use communication techniques that get you more than, "I'm fine" from your kids.
Talking face-to-face with a teen about feelings is not likely to get you satisfying answers. This is part of the reason the depression screening your pediatrician will present to your 12-year-old is a one-page self-report, not an interview. Kids are more likely to answer honestly when they're not cornered into a forced eye contact scenario. Instead, try a different approach like talking while taking a drive in the car, or walking side-by-side where both of you are looking in the same direction, not at each other.
Create a culture of openness in your family.
Reduce children's fear by emphasizing that any and all feelings are acceptable. Debunk any myths that might be operating in your child's mind, like worrying about your reaction if they tell you they feel depressed. Many children fear they will disappoint their parents, stress them out, or worse, that their feelings will be minimized and invalidated. Kids need to know that their feelings, especially the dark ones, are important, not an inconvenience to us.
Educate yourself and your kids about available resources.
Crisis Text Line. This resource was founded by Nancy Lublin, an activist and TED speaker who recognized the importance of having a 24/7 resource that utilizes the communication method kids are using most...text messaging. Text HOME to 741741 and you will be connected with a live Crisis Counselor in less than 5 minutes.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Suicide Prevention Resource Center: www.sprc.org
Don't ignore your gut instinct.
No one will ever know your child better than you, the parent. If you suspect your child is depressed or suicidal, reach out for help immediately. Don't assume it's a phase or that they're just tired. Connecting your child with a therapist can be one of the best gifts you give them. You send a message that feelings are hard, and there's people out there that can help. The best case scenario is that your child learns that therapy is a tool they can feel proud to use, instead of hiding their symptoms and allowing the stigma of mental health to keep them suffering alone.
If you're unsure how to get started, feel free to contact us at Starr Therapy. We are happy to answer questions and support you in the process. You can read more about our practice here.
For a list of local mental health professionals, including Talia, see our Little List here.
Talia Filippelli, LCSW, CHHC, CPT is a licensed psychotherapist, certified holistic health coach, certified personal trainer, the Chief Happiness Officer at Starr Therapy in Hoboken, and a mom of two. She has been featured on CBS News as a mental health expert and was voted a Top Kids Doc by NJ Family Magazine in 2014, 2015 and 2016!
For more information on Talia or Starr Therapy, visit: Starr Therapy, LLC