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Learning How to Help My Teenager With Mental Health Issues

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For months and months, my eldest daughter had tried to tell me how she was feeling: being ready to cry all the time, not wanting to get out of bed, avoiding social situations, refusing to speak or utter any words, unwilling to make physical contact of any kind, having thoughts about harming herself… the list goes on. I watched as she went from the engaging teenager I once knew to being someone I did not recognize in my own home. She tried to tell me on many occasions that she was in extreme pain, and it wasn’t until she had her pediatric appointment that I was told that she really, really needed help. If her arm had been broken, I would waste no time in getting her to a doctor. Why would I waste time now?

My mind reeled.

Firstly, I did not know where to start looking for a mental health professional. Who could or should I trust?

Secondly, I thought there may have been some way to have prevented this. Was it something I did or did not do as a parent?

Thirdly, I immediately thought about what friends and family would say or think. There is a lot of stigma associated with mental illness.

Honestly, it was this point that gave me pause.

I made a promise to my daughter that I would find help and asked that she give me time to locate the services she required. It wasn’t as easy as I thought. Many service providers have lengthy wait times for intake appointments – unless the person is in crisis and in danger of harming themselves – sometimes up to three to six months. Her pain was so evident; I knew I could not wait that long.

Thankfully, I was able to find a clinic relatively close to our home, and she has begun treatment, both counseling and medication therapies.

Admittedly, I began to think there would be a “fix,” a solution that would solve her diagnosis, like an antibiotic for a bacteria. I grew impatient thinking she would return to the smiling and gregarious teenager from before.

Time needs time.

And some days are better than others, but isn’t that the truth for all of us here?

So instead of expecting her to be anything else, I have come to realize, to know she is still my star, my wonderfully beautiful daughter.

As we approach this new year, I am committing myself to these things on her behalf:

1. To look beyond however she is feeling at any given moment and to see only her.

2. To fully and actively listen to her expression of how she feels without making any commentary.

3. To ask what she needs and not assume I know what she needs in that moment.

4. To be her biggest supporter and most staunch advocate no matter what.

5. To be kind to myself when I don’t get it exactly right.

Life is a journey, not a destination, and I am all in.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Thinkstock photo by Kikovic

Originally published: January 23, 2017
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