themighty logo

Parenting a 'High-Functioning' Depressed Teen

My son is amazing. He’s funny, and tall, and charming and polite. He’s been onĀ the honor roll since middle school. He runsĀ cross country and track; he transitioned from a small charter school where he had 18Ā kids in his eighth-grade class to a high school of 2000 students.

One day he felt sick, so we let him stay home. I was at work when I got a phone call fromĀ the school. Where was my son?Ā “He’s at home,” I tell them.

They called because a friend of his had shown the guidance counselor text messages. His friend was concerned he had hurt himself and that’s why he wasn’t in school.

I called my son, ā€œWhat is going on?ā€

He said he didn’t want to ā€œstress me out.ā€

I have a policy with my kidsĀ —Ā I tell them (pretty much) everything. I was, at that time,Ā working full time and in graduate school. I was stressed out; I told them that.

My sonĀ didn’t tell me he was having suicidal thoughts because he didn’t want to stress meĀ out.

I don’t know if I handled that conversation well. This parenting thing doesn’t come with aĀ manual.

My son had issues with his mental health before, several years earlier, so we were ableĀ to get him back in with his regular counselor, and he is doing well, better than heĀ was.

I was a lot like him when I was younger. I always had good grades, I didn’t act out inĀ ways that anyone would really notice, but I was a depressed kid who grew up to beĀ a depressed adult. This isn’t my first experience with mental health, but it is my firstĀ experience as the parent in this situation.

I thought talking to my kids all the time about mental health, addiction, things going on in my life and things going on in theirs would make it easier forĀ them to come to me when they had something going on, when they felt like somethingĀ was going sideways. It didn’t work out. My son, wanting to protect me and my feelingsĀ withheld that he was suffering,Ā and even though I have a lot of personalĀ experience with mental illness, I had no idea what he was hiding.

My first message is for the parents out there: If your kids tell you they are feelingĀ sad/depressed/anxious, please believe them and get them help. If your kids’ friends tellĀ you they are sending weird messages, ask your kid about it. As much as you thinkĀ you know your kid, they aren’t going to tell you everything.

My second message is for the kids: Please talk to your parents. Even if you think itĀ will stress them out or make them cry (they might!), you are more important to them thanĀ anything else. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help; it’s a brave thing to do.Ā And if your friends show some of your texts to your parents, don’t get mad at them. TheyĀ are trying to help. That is love.

If you or someone you know needs help,Ā please visit theĀ National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach theĀ Crisis Text LineĀ by texting ā€œSTARTā€ to 741-741.Ā Head hereĀ for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more informationĀ here.