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Parenting a 'High-Functioning' Depressed Teen

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My son is amazing. He’s funny, and tall, and charming and polite. He’s been on the honor roll since middle school. He runs cross country and track; he transitioned from a small charter school where he had 18 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 from the school. Where was my son? “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, “What is going on?”

He said he didn’t want to “stress me out.”

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

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

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

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

I was a lot like him when I was younger. I always had good grades, I didn’t act out in ways that anyone would really notice, but I was a depressed kid who grew up to be a depressed adult. This isn’t my first experience with mental health, but it is my first 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 for them to come to me when they had something going on, when they felt like something was going sideways. It didn’t work out. My son, wanting to protect me and my feelings withheld that he was suffering, and even though I have a lot of personal 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 feeling sad/depressed/anxious, please believe them and get them help. If your kids’ friends tell you they are sending weird messages, ask your kid about it. As much as you think 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 it will stress them out or make them cry (they might!), you are more important to them than anything else. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help; it’s a brave thing to do. And if your friends show some of your texts to your parents, don’t get mad at them. They are trying to help. That is love.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here 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 information here.

Originally published: June 10, 2016
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