You guys will get through this together.
Watching your kid deal with depression in particular can leave you feeling helpless and frustrated. But while mental illness might not be something you can make go away, there are things you can do to be supportive and help them get through it.
To help, BuzzFeed Health talked to Stephanie Dowd, Psy.D., clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute and Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and co-author of Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual. Here are their tips:
First things first, make sure your child is getting the help they need.
If they're exhibiting any of the symptoms of depression, it's really important to have them evaluated by a licensed mental health professional. According to Dowd, the most telling signs to look out for are if they're sad or irritable most of the time, if they've lost interest in the things they normally enjoy, if their grades and motivation have dropped, and if their sleeping or eating habits have changed — whether they're eating and sleeping too much or too little.
Treatment is going to look different for everyone, whether that's therapy, medication, or some combination of the two, but you'll figure it out as you go along. If you don't know where to start, this Parents Guide to Getting Good Care is an invaluable resource that will walk you through all the steps.
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But also make sure it’s on their own terms.
“There's a chance that they'll be resistant to receiving help, so it's important for you to be on the side of trying to understand your child, meeting them where they are, rather than immediately pushing them into anything,” says Dowd. “When that happens with a teen especially, they'll more often try to rebel if they feel as though they're misunderstood.”
Instead, ask them about their concerns about seeking help by saying something like, “I can understand why you'd be resistant. Tell me about what you're worried about will happen if you go.” Once you have a better understanding, you can work toward a solution together.
“You can also help by having a few initial sessions with two or three therapists so your child has a hand in picking who they feel most comfortable with,” says Greenberg.
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Take the time to acknowledge and validate what they’re going through.
This goes for starting therapy and throughout recovery. Kids often feel like they're not heard or understood by their parents, says Greenberg, so take the time to let them know that you see what a hard time they're having. Something as simple as acknowledging, “Yeah, I can see that you're feeling like crap and that must be so hard,” is a tremendous way to give support.
You should also look out for ways you might accidentally invalidate their feelings or make them feel damaged. Think things like giving reasons they should be happy (“Look at this beautiful house we're in and all the opportunities you have!”) or stating the obvious (“You're going to fail this class if you don't get it together.”) Here are some other common well-intentioned words that might be coming off the wrong way.
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