Navigating life with a teenager….who happens to have bipolar disorder

Once I became the parent of a child with a mental illness and neurological issues, I started seeing them everywhere.  If you have a family member with any type of diagnosis, you know what I mean.  You start diagnosing everyone you come in contact with.  Even more than the world around me, I started to notice things in the worlds I escaped into…..books and movies all of a sudden had underlying themes of depression or emotional challenges.   Movies I watched as a kid and loved, no longer had as much joy to them; they were filled with sadness and struggles.

Last week I watched Shall We Dance?……the Richard Gere version.  It is a movie I had seen many times and never thought much about.  There is a line toward the end, after Gere’s character, John Clark’s, wife finds out he has been taking dance lessons secretly. He says “If I sometimes couldn’t tell you that I wasn’t happy it is because I didn’t want to hurt the person I treasure most in the world”.

Now, it probably isn’t surprising to you that I think John Clark was dealing with a horrible depression….and dancing was his anti-depressant.   Once his family found out, he was ashamed……not only of the sadness, but of the fact that the people he loved weren’t the ones he chose to help him through it.  The reason for this is that he had so much, he felt guilty that they weren’t enough to make him happy.

depression

Why I am I breaking down this Saturday afternoon matinée to you all? Well, I think it is a good way to explain why parents are sometimes the last ones to know that their child has been dealing with depression.  Suicide has become an epidemic in our country….especially for teenagers and young adults.  According to the CDC, approximately 4600 young people between the ages of 10-24 take their lives every year.  Last year, Ebola took 2 lives in our country and it was headline news…..people were talking about it….everywhere.  Why don’t we talk about the 4600 young people losing their lives?

There are so many people out there thinking “not my kid”.  Honestly, a lot of the teenagers that are attempting or following through with their suicide plans are kids that no body would expect to.  Honor society, athletes, class officers, club presidents…..no one is immune to depression.  It’s these kids I fear for the most, they are alone in their struggle.  So many times we hear about a young person taking their life and people around them say, I thought he was fine or I thought she was happy.  They kept their sadness hidden from the people they loved……why?  I think so many of them were like John Clark, afraid to tell anyone that, even with all of the good in their lives, they still aren’t happy.

My son is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  In a way, that makes me one of the lucky parents.  I know what to look for in my son’s moods.  I know what changes in his temperament might mean.  I also make sure to talk to my son about his emotions on a regular basis.  In truth, in our house, we talk about emotions just as often as we have precautionary conversations about drugs, sex or social media.  Would I have included it in our regular conversation if he didn’t have a diagnosis? Probably not.  Nobody would have clued me in on the importance of mental health education to our kids.  Even once I had a child with a mental health diagnosis, I had no suggestions on how to talk to my son about his feelings.  I was handed a prescription and told to call if it didn’t help.  If I didn’t start doing research on my own as to how to effectively communicate with my son, I would probably have had a child that is one of the 4600.

We need to talk to our children……all of us…..and we need to start when they are young.  We need to let them know that sadness is a normal part of growing up, but sometimes it can get so bad that we have a hard time finding happiness again.  As they get older, we need to explain a little more in-depth about depression and how it can affect people.  Not only so they know for themselves, but so they can be aware of changes in their friends, too.  We need to let them know that we will listen without judgement and help them in any way we can.

Until we start talking to our kids about their emotional health, how can we expect them to talk to us? If they don’t start talking to us, how can we prevent next year’s 4600 deaths?

 

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