By Vanita Halliburton | Contributor
We’ve all heard the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Even though we know better, we sometimes let ourselves believe that other families are faring better in the child-rearing department than we are. We can convince ourselves that other parents have used this time of social distancing to make delicious family dinners every night, have meaningful heart-to-hearts with their teens, and teach them important life lessons. Peering through rose-colored windows into their homes, we think we see better-adjusted, higher-achieving, problem-free, perfectly behaved children who are gliding happily through adolescence toward becoming model teens and successful young adults.
We need to get over that notion. It’s just not true. The statistics tell us that one in five adolescents has a diagnosable mental health disorder, and about one in three shows clear symptoms of depression. However, the majority are not seeking treatment, often because the symptoms go unrecognized and undiagnosed. During this pandemic, our kids are coping with additional stress and it is more important than ever to know these symptoms and how to get your child help.
If you’re still thinking about that greener grass, look around your neighborhood and consider this: one in five families has a teen who may be depressed, anxious, self-harming, self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, or exhibiting behaviors such as anger, aggression, or withdrawal. Statistically, every classroom in your teen’s school has five or six students with symptoms of depression.
Left untreated, mental health issues can lead to other problems, like poor grades, conflicts with family and friends, substance abuse, broken relationships, or trouble with the law. It can also put a child at increased risk for suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among Texas youth.
It makes sense, actually. If a person is not well—whether it be a bout of the flu, clinical depression, or debilitating anxiety—the ability to get through daily life is impaired. Everything is a struggle, from performing the simplest tasks to the demanding roles of school and relationships.
Here’s another statistic to ponder: About half of all psychiatric illnesses begin before the age of 14. Yet, on average, nine years pass between the time when symptoms appear and when treatment is sought. That is too long. Failure to see and act on symptoms of mental distress can rob our children and teens of their health, and it can compromise their well-being during the years when so much important development and learning takes place.
We can do better. First, we can learn to recognize the symptoms of a mental or emotional disorder as readily as we recognize the signs of an oncoming cold. Common symptoms of depression include persistent irritability, sadness, anger, or social withdrawal, as well as major changes in appetite or sleep. Children who are depressed may become overwhelmed or exhausted. They may stop participating in activities they formerly enjoyed. Other possible symptoms include chronic pain, headaches, or stomach aches.
When we see such changes, it’s tempting to chalk it up to typical teenage moodiness or blame it on hormones. But it is far wiser to consider the possibility that something else is going on and get it checked out. As with any other medical condition, it is important to get a checkup from a qualified professional.
Unfortunately, the stigma around mental health disorders keeps some adolescents and their families from seeking help. That’s a shame because depression is highly treatable. With medication, therapy, or a combination of the two, most people with depression can be effectively treated. Many mental health providers are making treatment more accessible by offering telehealth options, which can break down some of the barriers to getting help.
Getting treatment for a mental health disorder—especially as soon as symptoms appear—can reduce its impact on an adolescent’s life and provide tools to help them deal with the stress and pressures of life.
Here’s the truth about green grass. Everyone’s lawn gets weeds and brown patches sometimes. But when tended properly, those problems can be remedied, and the grass restored to its natural, healthy state. We should do so well with our children.
Learn more about adolescent mental health and suicide prevention at granthalliburton.org.
How can I tell if my child is depressed?
Know the symptoms.
It’s normal for teens and young adults to feel down or moody sometimes. But when those feelings last for weeks, it could mean that something more serious is going on. Depression is very common—in fact, it affects over 2 million young people. Here is a list of what the symptoms may look like in a teen:
- You feel sad or cry a lot and it doesn’t go away.
- You feel guilty for no real reason; you feel like you’re no good; you’ve lost your confidence.
- Life seems meaningless or like nothing good is ever going to happen again.
- You have a negative attitude a lot of the time, or it seems like you have no feelings.
- You don’t feel like doing a lot of the things you used to enjoy–like music, sports, being with friends, going out–and you want to be left alone most of the time.
- It’s hard to make up your mind. You forget lots of things, and it’s hard to concentrate.
- You get irritated often. Little things make you lose your temper; you overreact.
- Your sleep pattern changes; you sleep a lot more or a lot less than you used to.
- Eating habits change; you’ve lost your appetite, or you eat a lot more.
- You’re using drugs or alcohol to cope.
- You start having aches or pains that won’t go away.
- You feel restless and tired most of the time.
- You think about death or feel like you’re dying; you have thoughts about suicide.
Know what to do.
- Seek professional help. Don’t wait to see if depression will get better.
- See a doctor who can check for physical illnesses that can cause symptoms of depression.
- Understand the treatment. What works best in most cases is medication or therapy, or both. Therapy can help a person find better ways to solve problems and change negative thoughts.
- Stick with the plan. Don’t miss therapy sessions and don’t stop taking medications without talking to the doctor.
- Stay healthy. Eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.
- Get involved in positive activities.
- Keep a journal of feelings to help determine triggers and effective treatments for depression.
- Tell someone if you feel suicidal. Call 800-273-8255 to talk to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.
Need help now?
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm:
Dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency room
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Crisis Text Line
Text HELP to 741741
The Trevor Project Helpline for LGBTQ+ Youth
If you are looking for mental health resources:
Here For Texas Mental Health Navigation Line
A free service offered by Grant Halliburton Foundation, open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to help individuals of all ages find mental health and addiction resources, including telehealth options. Spanish language assistance available.
A website developed by Grant Halliburton Foundation offering a wide array of information on mental health topics, North Texas resources and professionals.
Pandemic resources at granthalliburton.org/pandemicresources
Information about the virus, mental health websites, helplines, articles, and mini-lessons created by the Foundation on how to cope with stress and other challenges during this time.
Resources for Teens
Grant Halliburton Foundation’s picks for additional websites, podcasts, apps, and crisis lines that are relevant and safe for teens.
About Grant Halliburton Foundation
Grant Halliburton Foundation was established in 2006 in memory of a Dallas teen who battled depression and bipolar disorder for several years before his suicide death at the age of 19. The Foundation that bears his name works to help families and young people recognize the signs of mental illness through a variety of avenues including education, conferences, collaboration and encouragement. The Foundation provides mental health education, training and support to more than 49,000 students, educators, parents, and professionals annually. Learn more at GrantHalliburton.org.
ABOUT VANITA HALLIBURTON:
Vanita is co-founder and executive chairman of Grant Halliburton Foundation, which was established in 2006 following the suicide death of her son, Grant Halliburton. She is a frequent presenter on youth mental health and suicide prevention, speaking from the heart about her son’s battle with depression and bipolar disorder, his suicide at the age of 19, and the need for a collaborative approach to suicide prevention in our community.