A year into the pandemic, it’s no surprise that questions about mental health are on many teen minds.
Dear Other Dad —
What r some good ways to deal with depression. It’s getting really bad. There is moldy stuff in my room.
Dear Other Dad —
I recently told my parents about how I’m struggling with mental health and they’re putting me in therapy. Should I be scared?
First, I want to say that both of you are doing the right thing by acknowledging that you are struggling; going it alone makes a hard road harder. Reaching out to others is a good first step, so I’m glad you wrote.
You are not alone — not just because other people can help you, but because you have countless peers in the same boat. Depression and mental health issues are a part of life for a lot of kids your age. 1 in 13 teenagers experiences a depressive episode within a given year; 1 in 3 young adults will experience some form of mental illness over time. The span of possible issues is wide and the duration varies greatly, from acute episodes (short in length, even if very intense) to chronic (ongoing, even if low-grade).
Because of that variety, it’s always best to loop in a health expert. Mental health is like any other kind of health, so why not act like it? If you had a terrible cough that wouldn’t let up, you’d led a doctor to determine if it was a cold, pneumonia, or COVID — three illnesses that are very different in severity and outcome. You need to approach this issue the same way, trusting that people who treat these issues a year in and year out will know better than you, me, or (most likely) your caregivers.
Kiera0_0, it sounds like your parents already realize this and have made a great choice in finding a therapist for you. You might feel nervous, as you would meeting any new person, but there’s nothing to fear, as the person you are meeting is dedicated to your success. What seems new and painful to you will sound familiar and manageable to them, because they have pretty much heard it all before.
Depending on the situation, your therapist may be a social worker, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist. They will talk with you and, more importantly, listen to you, letting you express your feelings about your specific experience. They may give you concrete strategies for coping, help you learn to communicate better, offer behavioral exercises that help strengthen your emotional resilience, or (if the therapist is a psychiatrist) prescribe medications that suit not just your situation but your body chemistry. (Yes, depression and other mental health issues can have roots in your biology.)
Don’t expect instant miracles; you and your therapist will need a little time to develop a rapport that gets to the bottom of things. Patience and openness are both keys. If many weeks pass and you don’t feel like you are making progress with this therapist, however, be honest about that with your folks, so you may look for a professional who better serves your needs. (A good therapist understands that not every pairing is a perfect fit; they know you need to find someone who yields the right outcomes for you.)
Consider seeking a therapist of your own, Can_U_Like_Not. If it is at all a possibility, tell your parents or caregivers that you’d like help. If they don’t have insurance or are unsure whether they can afford mental health care coverage, steer them toward state resources for the uninsured. (You can get referral information from this federal agency helpline).
In the meantime, since I’m not a mental health provider of any kind, I can only offer some practical tips to tide you over. The big note is this: Don’t worry about solving your depression all at once. Yes, throw out anything moldy, but don’t put pressure on yourself to get everything under control quickly.
Here’s my starter suggestion: Make a goal of doing one thing you love and one thing you need to do.
Doing something you love (especially if you haven’t in a while) offers you a reward for your effort and can boost your psyche during blue days. Doing something you need to do (without worrying about how many other things are on your list) makes the mountain climb a little smaller while reminding you of your capabilities. You don’t have to accomplish both things on the same day; you just need to set a goal of meeting these two tasks and then follow through, however long it takes. When you’ve done that, pick two more. This will keep your eyes trained forward and may keep you from sinking in the familiar fog of lethargy.
Good mental health, like good physical health, is a lifelong journey; allefforts to be healthier (whether it’s going for a walk in the sun or talking to friends, or scheduling therapy sessions) can improve your quality of life along the way.
There will always be periods when you feel better or worse. Accepting that fact is half the battle. The other half is doing what you’ve done here: sharing the burden, not shouldering it alone.
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Previously Published on Medium