Since Adolescence is often the onset of mental illness it can be difficult to discern from the typical behavior of the age group. A certain amount of moodiness and risk-taking is expected since teens think of themselves as invincible.
Prior to tenth grade, Charles was a joiner and then stopped being as engaged in drama and school clubs around tenth grade. Little by little there was one more clue and I would make an excuse to myself that everything was OK even though my gut was screaming at me. We did seek help and we didn’t get good help, unfortunately.
Charles’ substance misuse put us at odds with our son and diverted our attention away from his depression but all the changes seem to creep up so gradually–the drop in grades, poor school attendance, loss of interest in activities he had enjoyed, a dramatic shift in friends.
He was always so engaged with friends and still quite funny to imagine he could be depressed. And until he was deposited against his will in wilderness, we didn’t know he suffered from depression. He was a master at hiding it.
Few wanted to help us sort things out and when I brought it up with others including healthcare providers and educators, it was often dismissed as “he’ll grow out of it,” despite my pushing for answers. There were champions along the way, however, who voiced concern and I want to give credit to individuals who helped us as much as they were able.
Teens are not engaging in negative behavior, getting in trouble, self harming, cutting classes, drugging or drinking as revenge against you but in an effort to cope with something. This behavior indicates an underlying problem.
I thought lack of motivation was something I could do something about, that there was a special formula that would catapult my child out of what I thought was complacency or laziness. If I could execute this parenting style it would transform my child into one that would inspire him to be a job-seeking teen entrepreneur. But what I was seeing was depression.
If you are hearing phrases like, “I don’t matter,” “no one cares about me,” or too many angry outbursts over minor things, lack of energy, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, not bathing or taking any care of personal appearances, isolating too often or utilizing negative coping strategies such as self harm or abusing substances, this is above what is normal. It’s usually not just one thing but a mixture of several.
If you feel in your gut that something isn’t right, it probably isn’t. There are plenty of lists to tell you what’s normal and what’s not but that pit in your stomach is your best indicator.
If you are waking up often with the thought that something is wrong, don’t ignore it.