Help for parents of kids with depression
Parents whose kids struggle with a recurring depressive disorder know too well how difficult and exhausting it can be to help their child. Often other family members, friends, and teachers don’t understand. Fortunately, NAMI Nevada County can help. We do understand and provide compassionate support and knowledge by connecting parents with other parents who have been there. Parents learn how to help their children while helping each other. We meet regularly, talk by phone and e-mail, and attend each other’s school meetings. We share experiences, strategies, success stories and, most importantly, hope – because our kids can get better.
Children and teens with major depression or bipolar disorder are ill, and acute anxiety commonly co-occurs. As diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, these illnesses are disorders of the brain. Medical technology shows that the brain’s chemistry and structure are involved and that these illnesses occur in kids. Some symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder include:
Poor school performance
Changes in eating and sleeping
Indecision, lack of concentration, or forgetfulness
Poor self-esteem or guilt
Frequent physical complaints, e.g., headaches, stomachaches
Lack of enthusiasm, energy, or motivation
Parents feel very alone as they navigate school services and treatment options, which are complex to learn. These kids may or may not have a learning disability; they may be highly intelligent. “Your son just won’t pay attention; he falls asleep in class and won’t do his work.” “Your daughter could get good grades if she would just focus and do her work. She doesn’t try hard enough.” These are common comments parents hear from teachers who don’t comprehend that the student is ill. Depression and anxiety interfere with the ability to focus, concentrate and remember. These are skills successful students need. Stress can trigger the illness’s symptoms, and school is inherently stressful. Our kids typically struggle in school because they’re ill – and they need help, compassion and support. Because these illnesses are chronic medical conditions, like arthritis and diabetes, the symptoms can surface and then wane, sometimes for no apparent reason. Other times there are environmental triggers, such as hormonal changes or life stressors. Treatment helps one manage but does not always prevent symptoms.
Parents want to do everything possible to help our children have a healthy, productive life and to diminish the very real chance that they become disabled by these illnesses. We want to partner with other caring adults in our kids’ lives. And when we find those partners, the difference is immeasurable, and we are grateful. There are wonderful teachers who see through the behaviors to the ill child and support and nurture their growth. But we also continually run into barriers-attitudes by teachers and other professionals who seem to blame the child for having the illness. Or point at us for poor parenting. They see the symptoms of these illnesses as willful, intentional behaviors, requiring discipline and even punishment, which works about as well as telling a kid with the flu to stop having a fever.
If a brain tumor was causing these behaviors, would the kids be treated differently? Would others show more compassion? According to the National Institute of Mental Health: “Signs of depressive disorders in young people often are viewed as normal mood swings typical of a particular developmental stage. In addition, health care professionals may be reluctant to prematurely ‘label’ a young person with a mental illness diagnosis. Yet early diagnosis and treatment of depressive disorders are critical to healthy emotional, social and behavioral development.” Instead, our kids are often labeled as “emotionally disturbed,” which is extremely stigmatizing.
Parents of kids with these illnesses have two primary goals: first, to keep our kids alive, as the risk for death can be as high as 1 out of 5; and second, to minimize the risk for substance abuse as these kids can be miserable and, like many in our society, look to ingest something to make them feel better. If that something is medicine, and it works, miracles can happen. We’ve seen it. But we also know medical treatment can be a difficult path for some as science is still coming to grips with how best to help these kids.
These children, who once were precious, beautiful babies, deserve support and help. Our experience shows when we all work together, kids can get better. NAMI welcomes new parents. Call us at 272-4566. There is no fee.
Lael Walz is president of NAMI Nevada County.
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