One of my friends’ daughters was diagnosed with a mental illness as a fifth-grader. Because of the diagnosis, my friend brought her family’s world to a standstill. She directed a laser focus at one thing and one thing only: helping her daughter heal. She gave up social outings, decreased her workload, and reached out to every expert she could find. She learned that mental illness can be deadly. Research shows that depression in children and their suicide rates have risen.
The statistics are frightening and sad. Depression and loneliness in adolescent boys have risen to 47% in boys and 65% in girls. Suicide rates are up for both boys and girls and suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers. But moms, we can effectively deal with our children’s depression and help prevent suicide. Here’s how.
Take it seriously.
Well-meaning friends and family might tell you that your child’s depression or unhappiness is just a phase. It might be, but it instead may signal that your child is seriously struggling. Depression in children and teens can be especially dangerous because they haven’t developed coping skills. If your child shows signs of depression or risk factors for suicide, get help immediately.
Think about it this way: if your child came home with a broken arm or had blood pouring from an injury, you immediately would do everything within your power to treat his or her physical condition. Mental health is as important as physical health. We must take it seriously to protect our children.
We cannot always tell when children are depressed or suicidal. They usually do not announce it. But there are signs to look for. To do this, we must be available to our children, listen to our children without judgment, and give them our full attention when we are with them.
Risk factors for suicide in teens include impulsive behavior (this is why boys have higher suicide rates); traumatic events at school, in their personal lives, or at home—a breakup, bullying, divorce; previous mental illness; and drug use in children who already show signs of depression, anxiety, or mental illness.
And it’s worth noting that many children kill themselves during a “short-term crisis,” like having their hearts broken, feeling humiliated in front of their peers, or being in academic distress.
Remove the means for suicide.
Studies show that when a child has access to a means to commit suicide, he or she is more likely to follow through with suicide. It is important to make sure your depressed child does not have access to guns or prescription drugs that might be used in suicide. If you have guns in your home, keep them away from your children.
Mothers are already so good at this. We sacrifice so much for our children and we do it willingly. In fact, what others might see as a sacrifice we see as an expression of love. But when a child is depressed, a mom might have to sacrifice even more of her time, more of her money, more of her energy. It can push us beyond what we thought we were capable of. But we can do it and we must do it—for our children.
Get the best help.
You might have to drive a long distance to get treatment from the best specialist. You might have to spend hours researching the latest evidence-based treatment. You might have to go out of your comfort zone and be vulnerable with people you know, all in hopes of finding the best options for your child.
Thankfully, mental illness can be treated. And, mom, you are your child’s best caregiver. Now is the time to address your child’s challenge, while he or she is still living at home, under your care.
What are some ways you can help your child through depression?