RIP Robin Williams and Attention to Depression

With the recent suicidal death of the talented Robin Williams, (love him or hate him, he’s talented) talks of mental illness spill from every news station, radio show, tabloid magazine, and hashtags on twitter. Rumors, possibly truths, are using words like depression, addiction, suicide, and mental illness. Such discussions on mainstream media are hot topic until the latest sweep of something better breaks the headlines tomorrow morning.

After a discussion with a parent today about my client (her child) being admitted inpatient for thoughts of suicide, and recent media hype about depression, I began to question whether adults are fully informed on recognizing such symptoms in our young people.

But, depression is depression, right? Not exactly, and certainly depression differs when comparing adults to child and adolescents.

So what should we look for?

Look for time. We’ve all experience feeling “depressed,” and that is understandable; but, when those feelings last more than two weeks, become concerned.

It’s not just sadness. Adolescents and children experience “depression” differently, and it can be perceived as irritability, anger and/or moodiness, by adults, parents, and teachers, even peers. Be aware of what is normal, and notice if the child has particular and ongoing irritability.

Big changes. Depression changes the way a person feels and thinks, which influences the way he/she behaves. Adolescents and teenagers are no different. Watch for those changes in behavior. Keep an eye for grades dropping, more trouble at school, changes in eating habits (eating more or eating less). Look for significant changes in sleeping patterns, either sleeping more and having difficulty sleeping. Most adolescents and teens are social creatures; so when they withdraw from friends and family (more than the usual not wanting to hang with mom or dad), or take notice.

The same symptoms. Not all depression symptoms are different between adults and children. There are several that can be very similar. Feelings of worthlessness, sadness, crying are key elements that indicate depression in teens. Listen for self-defeating comments about oneself, crying unexplainably, quick to anger for no apparent reason, genuine moping around that is unusual.

Talk about Suicide. Yes, it is ok to mention the “s” word. I can promise with all the media coverage of suicide from every angle, Robin Williams to stories about teens killing themselves, mentioning suicide doesn’t give teens and adolescent the idea. Open discussion helps address the potential elephant in the room, and while awkward, the conversation could shine light on something serious that is happening.

Depression can be difficult for those feeling it and those watching someone they love experience it. Talk about it. Don’t assume that a teenager or adolescent has or doesn’t have those feelings; be proactive in not allowing that child to feel alone in a room full of people. rw

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“I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine..” Dealing with Bullying

Finding Nemo is a one of my favorite Disney movies, for many reasons.  Among the most endearing characters are the three sharks that are desperately attempting to stay on a “vegetarian path.”  Who doesn’t remember the sharks reciting: “I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine.  If I am to change this image, I must first change myself.  Fish are friends, not food”?  A smile spreads across my face as I type those words.  

 However, that smile quickly disappears when I think of how applicable those same words can be for today’s young teens.  Bullying and mean girls are a prevalent topic, not only among my teenage clients, but also for my adult clients who’ve been tormented with memories of their childhood.  Certainly with the surfacing of mainstream social media, more avenues for bullying are presented.  

 What if your teenager is (embarrassingly) that mean girl or bully in his/her school?  (Yikes!!)  When questioning your child about bullying behavior, don’t be surprised when you hear “just kidding.”  While a defense mechanism, the child is really trying to deflect accountability and make it appear as if you are overreacting.  (You aren’t.)  Listen and ask, genuinely, what is going on in the child’s life that is presenting a situation where he/she feels the need to be mean.  Then, LISTEN; listen and voice understanding your teen’s his/her behavior, when applicable.  Here comes the part where he/she might shut down and focus on a far off land because what do parents know.  Question your child about whether he/she has been made fun of, bullied, or had feelings hurt.  Discuss the emotions your teenager felt, and try to parallel that the effects of his/her actions as a bully.  Empower your teen to do the right thing, even when it goes against his/her “group” of friends.  Encourage and role play with your teen about how to be different, say different, and act different.  Be supportive at all attempts even sarcastic ones.  Acknowledge and praise any interaction towards your teen trying.  Voice the positive qualities you observe in your teen.  Point out the label of bully or mean girl is not popular or respected and will eventually lead to loneliness.  

 How do parents comfort a child who is the victim of mean girls or bullying?  First, LISTEN.  While this seems obvious, most parents don’t really engage in conversation, they dominate it.  Listen to your teen and affirm his/her emotions, despite how silly they may sound.  Feel free to share you experience, but only AFTER you’ve listened to his/hers.  Next, use the opportunity to show the importance of building relationships in a positive light, instead of using someone for entertainment benefit at the expense of someone else’s emotions.  Allow and encourage your teen to role play scenarios, giving him/her guidance with how to deal face-to-face with the bully.  This allows for your child to explore boundaries he/she is comfortable expressing.  Discuss the important fact that not every hurtful word deserves a comeback and sometimes the best option is to walk away without saying anything in return.   

 Remember the sharks in Finding Nemo?  Developing and maintaining healthy, gossip-free relationships with those around us can be an example to our children.  If you find that you are not setting an that right example, use that as a foundation to change, for yourself and your child(ren).  “If I am to change this image, I must first change myself.” 

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Dynamics of Touch

Is there power in touch?  Can you force feelings through creating a physical connection with someone you’ve never met?  Richard Renaldi,  has a project “Touching Strangers” where he captures affection through strangers that have never met before.  Most individuals profess and even exhibit with body language that he/she is at first uncomfortable with the intimacy.  However, the photograph captures a beautiful and true display of warmth between two or three people who’ve never met. 

Amazing that individuals can touch one another, physically and awkwardly at the beginning and somehow touch into emotions.  Imagine if we touched with affection those who are important to us?  Those who we mentor?  Those children we are responsible for raising? 

I often hear the complaint, “At that moment, I don’t want to (or don’t feel like) touching him/her,” whether that is a spouse, friend, or child.  This photography project simply proves that emotions can and will follow actions.  Reaching out and hugging, holding a hand, patting the back, can be awkward and difficult, but it can be far-reaching and facilitate extracting emotions that support that simple action; creating a foundation for connection, and a building block for developing a positive relationship. Imagine the possibilities between a parent and child…

Let us not miss an opportunity to reach out, touch physically and connect emotionally.

Ashley