As an AiT Contributor and as someone who was been through a fair share of mental health issues since childhood, I am very aware that this was not just something that I was going through alone. My parents and other family members were also often brought along for the ride. Because of this, my parents have learned quite a bit about the mental health field and how they can best help me through the difficulties of anxiety and depression. Here, I sat down with my own parents and asked them to offer their perspective on what it has been like to raise a child with these disorders and what they have taken away from it.
For parents, hopefully, this provides some advice to you and lets you know that you can be an important part of your teen’s healing. It can be rough to raise a teen, particularly one who you watch struggle day in and day out. Know that you are not alone in this, but also that things can one day be different.
For teens, please recognize the challenges that your parents face. Consider how hard it is for you to see a hurting friend and try to understand that this is similar to how your parents feel when they recognize your pain. You are not a burden, but your parents do really just want what is best for you. Try to be honest with your parents and let them know how you feel they can best be there to support you.
AIT: What is the most challenging part of having a teenager dealing with anxiety or other mental health concerns?
Parents: The most challenging part is watching them live with anxiety and not being able to help them feel better readily. Mental disorders to not have quick fixes just as some physical illness (i.e., cancer, etc.) do not have quick fixes. Seeing your child suffer is horrible!
In addition, sometimes anxiety is accompanied by anger. As a parent, you do not want to say or do anything that will cause the anger to escalate, so the challenge becomes knowing what is the “right” thing to say or do.
Another very challenging aspect is finding medical care. There seems to be a shortage of psychiatrists and the wait time for an initial appointment is often a couple months because so many providers are too busy and not taking on new patients.
The search for a therapist has its challenges as well. Once you get in for the appointment, there is always a chance that your son or daughter doesn’t “click” with the therapist. Different therapists will be appropriate fits for different people because they all have unique therapeutic approaches- everyone’s needs are individual.
AIT: What advice would you give to other parents?
Parents: Firstly, seek professional help for your child. This could be a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist. Monitor the progress being made – you know your teen best. Assuming you are a reasonable person, the professional should listen and give consideration to your input and feedback. If a medication doesn’t seem to be effective, speak up and express your concerns. Keeping dated notes can be very helpful, so think about starting a notebook to keep organized. It is also important however, to listen to your teen’s thoughts on how things are progressing and what seems to be working.
Listen to your teen’s story or concerns. I’ve found that asking some gentle questions helps rather than offering solutions. Allowing the person to “vent” and verbalize often helps them to discover their own solution.
It’s very easy to assimilate their issues and make them your issues. Remind yourself that you can support them, but not solve their problems or “fix” their emotions. This is where setting boundaries becomes crucial. It is not possible to be available every moment of every day. If you expect that of yourself, you will drive yourself crazy. Utilize the professionals available to your son or daughter.
AIT: What have you learned about yourself through all this?
Parents: I needed to give myself a break. I’ve learned to incorporate relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, into my own daily life. I now take about 20 minutes a day to relax by laying down and focusing on how my body and mind feel.
This self-awareness helps me identify my own feels of anxiety. I’ve learned the need to slow down and “smell the roses.”
AIT: How do you show support for your teen?
Parent: What I have found as the best way to support my anxious teen is to empathize with her feelings of anxiety and depression. Also I try to plan ahead and talk about possibly stressful events before they happen so that we can work together to find a good way to handle it if the anxiety does come up.
I use encouragement and positive reinforcement when she uses healthy coping skills. Don’t criticize your teen for their feelings, rather let them know that you recognize their pain and want to work with them to turn things around.
By: Kara Baumgardner, AiT Contributor