A letter to the community – February 2015
A Letter To the Community
Our community has experienced many sad and tragic losses in the past few months. They have been jolting to all, including those of us in the mental health field. As the Executive Director of Adolescent Counseling Services and a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist, I understand mental illnesses and adolescents. But all of my training and years of working in this field do not help me deal with the emotions I feel following each suicide. If I am experiencing these deep, anxious, and unsettling feelings, I know others are too.
I wish I understood the “why”, but sometimes, having an answer can make us complacent. We tend to too quickly go to solutions and answers so we can bypass the grief and continue to live our lives the same as before. Searching for an answer makes us look deep within and perhaps will encourage changes in how we live our daily lives. Strong emotions are a good thing; they force us to grow, deal with the pain, and look at different ways of doing things.
It is time we really face the situation. Our community is in crisis. We need to accept that some of us suffer more, struggle more, or need more help and support. Seeking help is a sign of strength and courage; not weakness! I applaud the message shared by students that seeking help and walking into our ACS offices to check in and share emotions should be done as a casual routine. As a society, we know it is considered healthy and encouraged to undergo routine physicals every year. Why don’t we all undergo routine mental health check ups annually or more frequently if there is a need?
Let’s begin to look at depression, anxiety, or any emotional/mental illness just as we look at bronchitis or acne, for example. There is no shame in seeking treatment for acne, right? So why is there still a stigma when someone seeks treatment for depression? Just to reiterate, seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It is the exact opposite! It requires immense strength and courage to want to change, grow, improve, feel better, and live! I second the students’ message loud and clear: Seek help, explore your feelings, grow, change, and go to counseling just like it was a routine dental check up! ACS welcomes you all! Stop by, say hi, and tell us how you feel. We love to help and want to celebrate the strength it takes to share your feelings or ask for help!
This, then, is the perfect time for all of us to begin to freely realize, admit and embrace that depression and emotional/mental illnesses are directly and indirectly part of our daily lives just like any other physical ailments are and that the more aware we are of our own and our family members’ feelings and moods, the more we are able to open up and begin the conversation with our loved ones, be it our children and/or our spouses. I think it is important for us to remind ourselves at all times that unlike adults, who have the ability to seek assistance on their own, teenagers usually must rely on parents, teachers, or other caregivers to recognize their suffering and get them the treatment they need. So if you have or know of someone who has an adolescent in their lives, it’s important to learn what teen depression looks like and what to do if you spot the warning signs.
As we are all well aware, teenagers face a host of pressures, from the changes of puberty to questions about who they are and where they fit in. The natural transition from child to adult can also bring parental conflict as teens start to assert their independence. With all this drama, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between depression and normal teenage moodiness. Making things even more complicated, teens with depression do not necessarily appear sad, nor do they always withdraw from others. For some depressed teens, symptoms of irritability, aggression, and rage are more prominent.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION IN TEENS
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Irritability, anger, or hostility
- Tearfulness or frequent crying
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Restlessness and agitation
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of death or suicide
If you are not sure if a teen in your life is depressed or just “being a teenager,” it is important to consider how long the symptoms or behaviors have been present, how severe they are, and how different the teen is acting from his or her usual self. While some “growing pains” are a normal part of a teenager’s life as they face the sometimes daunting tasks and hurdles of growing up, dramatic, long-lasting changes in personality, mood, or behavior are to be taken seriously as signs that there might be something deeper going on. If in doubt, always seek the advice of a mental health professional. As you have heard me say many, many times…. It is better to seek help and ask the questions and be wrong than do nothing hoping that what you witness or experience might pass and ultimately end up with a tragedy.
Philippe Rey, Psy.D.
Image: Eastop “Open handed”