Firstly, let me apologise to you for this being such a long blog – it’s a very important blog and the theme is close to my own heart so please find five minutes where you can sit and read this so that you can take it all in – you never know, some of the information in here may hold you or your teen in good stead one day!
The teenage years are not easy for parents (as well as the teen) As children move through the various stages of going through adolescence — physical, emotional, social, intellectual, hormonal, sexual — the anxieties and problems they encounter can be overwhelming for them. For many youngsters, these and other stressors can lead to a mental health disorder, and for some – to wanting to end their life.
Teens go through so many different emotions that it is sometimes hard to spot depression but look at the list below and you may recognise some of them:
- Your teen may not seem to enjoy things that used to make him or her happy
- Aches and pains somewhere in the body but with no real physical reason for them
- Not really caring about the future
- Lethargy – lying in or on the bed not wanting to do anything
- A change in weight – either increase or decrease.
- Doesn’t want to go out socially
- Appears sad most of the time
- May appear angrier
- Sleeping a lot
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Trouble making choices
- School report might not be as good as usual
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of confidence
- Unexpected crying or moodiness
- Self – harm – cutting – hairpulling etc
- Paranoia or secrecy
If I think my Teen is Depressed – what should I do?
1) Try and talk to your teen about what is happening at school or if anything is bothering him at home?
2) If your child talks about death or suicide – for example, “Everyone would be better off without me around” or “No one would care if I wasn’t here” these types of phrases should NOT be ignored. Go to the GP immediately who will screen your child for depression.
3) If your child has not yet been offered some therapy or counselling, find a good children’s therapist who can get your child talking and perhaps find out what is troubling him or her.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
As well as peer pressure, the mental health problems can also lead teens not to just start experimenting with drugs and alcohol, but to also self – medicate with prescription medication – not necessarily their own either!
Parents should be keeping their ears and eyes open for evidence of drugs – hangovers, slurred speech etc. Some teens buy cough mixture from the chemist and take that thinking it will make them feel better. Just be very aware that during adolescence some children WILL experiment with drugs and if they do happen to be depressed, anxious or stressed at the same time, this could quite easily lead to severe addiction.
At my clinic in Berkshire, a 12 year – old girl was brought to see me because she had tried to hang herself in her bedroom. Fortunately, her 14 year – old sister realised something was wrong and went and saved her before it was too late, but this could have been an entirely different story! The mum said she was just doing it for attention but if a child has to do something like that “for attention” then there is something terribly wrong in the family dynamics and family therapy is definitely required. The older sister was drinking alcohol and so were the parents,
“But I’ve been to our GP and the waiting list to see a psychiatrist for my daughter is almost 6 months!”
If you feel that your child’s depression is severe enough that you are worried for his safety, if you think he may try to commit suicide, then you MUST be able to get an URGENT referral to a psychiatrist for an assessment. If you don’t then go to A and E and ask them to see your child as an emergency and state that you are worried for his safety.
One lady who knows only too well what it’s like to lose a child to suicide is Beverley Bishop, from Norfolk, whose 20-year-old son Jess, took his own life a year ago – I’ll let Beverley tell you her story.
“My youngest son is Jess Fairweather. He died on 11th October 2018 as a result of taking his life. He was 20 years of age and had started studying at UEA just two weeks previously.
This is Jess’ story from my point of view. I hope you might find this helpful.
I first became aware that Jess suffered from mental health problems when he was 16. I was aware that he was losing weight, but I hadn’t considered that he might have had an eating disorder. I had put his weight loss due to a growth spurt and thought he was losing his ‘puppy fat’ as he was growing up. I hadn’t noticed that he was eating significantly less or binge eating. I received a phone call from the GP with permission from Jess informing me that Jess had made an appointment to see her and she was very worried about his mental health. She said that he had a serious eating disorder and was depressed. The guilt I felt for not noticing ‘signs’ was painful. I was his Mum. I should have noticed. I hadn’t even noticed his low mood. He had always been quite moody, even as a young child, so I simply thought his ‘moods’ were part of him.
The GP referred him for an urgent assessment with CAHMS. Surprisingly, an appointment came through within a few weeks and I took him to the clinic. At the clinic, he spoke to a therapist alone and I was also asked in for part of the appointment to answer some questions. The assessment correlated with the GP’s. I was told that Jess had developed an eating disorder and was suffering from depression and fortnightly therapy sessions were recommended.
On our return home, Jess flatly refused to discuss the possibility of attending further appointments. He said: ‘What would a middle-aged man in a suit ticking boxes on a questionnaire know about me?’ Nothing would change his mind. I suggested paying for therapy so that he could find someone with whom he felt comfortable, but still he refused. The only chink of light was that he agreed he would discuss his feelings with me. He did. He even discussed difficult feelings with me. This I found incredibly difficult, but at least he was talking. However, I didn’t quite know what to do with some of the things that he told me. He started to gain a little more weight again and whilst I didn’t notice any change in his mood, he said he was feeling better.
Over the years, he would reach out to me whenever he could feel his mood drop. This would tally with weight loss. On occasions, he would self – harm. He flatly refused any outside help, but he continued to talk. Some of the things that Jess struggled with was his physical appearance and also his sexuality. At 16, he told me that he was gay but wished that he wasn’t. He said that he suffered from social anxiety, although on the face of it no-one would know. He was very charismatic and gregarious and very popular. His father and I continually suggested that he saw a therapist, but he always refused.
About a year before Jess’ death, he visited the GP and was prescribed anti-depressants. Unfortunately, these made him feel very anxious and was giving him suicidal thoughts. He stopped taking the anti-depressants but agreed to continue to see the GP
Six months before Jess’ death, he was suffering from severe low mood. He was continuing to see his GP but still refused therapy. He told me that he knew how he would die and that it was more a question of when. He told me this very calmly. He told me that he wanted me to know, so that I wouldn’t be shocked when it happened. He said he was giving me time to prepare myself.
The following day, his mood lifted. He told me that he was feeling much better and that I shouldn’t worry, he was in a dark place and I should take what he said with a pinch of salt.
If I had known then, what I know now, I would have taken action. But I was frozen in fear. I didn’t know what to do. I am still haunted by this conversation. I didn’t even tell his Dad.
Jess was in very good spirits for the following five months. He was very excited about the prospect of going to university. The future looked bright.
I will never forget the day I dropped Jess off at the halls of residence. He looked genuinely fearful. This was a look that I had never seen before. However, I didn’t think too much of it. I assumed that many students would also be feeling fearful and it was natural. Besides, we only lived 20 miles away and he had a car. He could come home any time.
Jess found the first week at university very difficult. He called most days. He said he was feeling very overwhelmed and that he didn’t feel that he fitted in. He came home that weekend and still seemed apprehensive. The following week, he was much more cheerful. He still kept in touch frequently, but he seemed to be settling. I met him for lunch on the Thursday before his death and he told me about an idea that he had for a radio programme focusing on law issues (he was studying law). He had contacted the director of law who had agreed to offer him his full support for the project. He was very excited. He returned home that weekend and appeared happy.
Four days later, Jess was dead. I had spoken to Jess the evening he died. He told me that he loved me and hoped to see me soon.
I don’t know why Jess chose to take his life, but I suspect that in that ‘moment’ he could see no other way. I wish I had spoken to him about what to if he experiences suicidal urges. I would have told him to reach out, no matter what time of day, whether it’s to a family member, friend or organisation such as the Samaritans or Young Minds. I would have gone through with him guidance on what to do if he is feeling suicidal. Those organisations offer helpful advice.
With hindsight, I would also have spent time with him and created a first aid kit for distress https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/emergency.htm I wish I had found a resource like this sooner. He may or may not have embraced this. I don’t know, but I would have given it a go.
I wish I had asked more questions when he told me that he may end his life at some point. I wish we had a proper conversation about this, and I wish that I had told someone else what he was thinking. But I became frozen in fear and I held onto his words like a guilty secret.
I wish I had spent more time with him to listen. Hold space for him. Give him my 100% attention and listen. I listened to him a lot but perhaps I could have done more. I will never know.
However, what I know is that I love my son very much indeed and I did my best for him, even though there are now things that I wish that I had done differently.
Suicide shatters. It has shattered the foundation of my very core. It distresses me that Jess was in so much pain that he felt the only solution was to end his life and it distresses me that perhaps I could have done more. I will never know and this is why I am telling you our story, I am writing in the hope that it might help.” Beverley Bishop.
Beverley’s son took his own life and as she says herself, it was HIS decision, but Beverley chooses to LIVE and that’s HER decision. Whether, if someone had been there at the university with him when he was contemplating suicide, he may not have done it, or would he perhaps have just waited for the right time – whenever that was. This is the thing isn’t it, we just don’t know what is going on in that person’s mind. Some youngsters do indeed, find life extremely difficult, very challenging and this is why, at my clinics in London and Berkshire, I do courses and programmes for children to learn how to be resilient – how to meet challenges head-on and deal with them. Somehow, without frightening our children, we have to make them realise that no problem in life is worth ending your life! It doesn’t matter whether it’s a problem at home, school, college, work – any problem, no matter how huge it may seem at the time, it can be sorted out.
In the therapy programmes I use with children as young as five years old, I ensure they are learning:
a) how to have a growth mindset – for example, “learning that they may not be able to do it YET but once they have instruction, they CAN do it!” and
b) How to be resilient – I use role-play (with little ones with glove puppets) and teens with proper one to one scenarios of how to cope with a bully or how to cope when you get something wrong in class. These skills will stand your child in good stead for feeling in control, resilient and confident as he develops and grows.
Facts and Figures
The Office of National Statistics show that there were 177 suicides amongst 15-19 year – olds in 2018 compared with 110 in 2010, and these figures are growing annually. For every “one” suicide there are another FIVE suicide “attempts” i.e the person survived because he was found.
As a nation, we do not like to talk about death, do we? As Beverley will tell you, some people would rather cross the road and avoid talking to you, because THEY don’t know what to say! I believe we should be open and honest with our children about death. We SHOULD talk to them about Grandma being poorly and the possibility that she WILL die (if that’s the case of course!) This is why I always think it’s a good idea for children to have pets, they will undoubtedly go through a time when the pet will pass away, this is a really good time to talk to them about death. I think what really is important is to get across to your child that death really is final. There is no coming back. You are NOT just sleeping. Be honest with your child. They are more resilient than we give them credit for! Yes, it may hurt a bit at the time to have such a conversation, but wouldn’t you rather have your child knowing how FINAL death is if he were contemplating suicide?