Is your teen okay?

There are two recent posts about teen mental health, i.e. brain health as I like to refer to it.  One is from the NY Times and the other is from a Seattle pediatrician Dr. Wendy Swanson aka Seattle Mama Doc. Both articles are excellent reads for any parents, even if you only have toddlers or elementary school age kids, it’s good to be aware of what your child or their friends may have to deal with in the future. Here are my two take aways.

  1. If you suspect your child of being depressed, addressed in depth in Dr. Swanson’s post, assess safety and then call the pediatrician. Make sure your teen is safe, which means no access to loaded guns, knives, razors, medications (lock up even the aspirins and tylenols). It’s okay to ask about their intentions about harming themselves, if they have a plan… your questions will not put ideas in their head, research shows these questions do NOT increase suicidality, so it is okay and necessary to ask.  If your child is an immediate threat to him/herself you have a few options. Take them the ER or an immediate evaluation. From there arrangements will be made of either intense outpatient treatment, or inpatient hospitalization, depending on severity of their thoughts and intentions. If you need more help to decide, you can also call a local mobile crisis unit. In Delaware County, the number is 855-889-7827.  See here for a list of other important mental health numbers locally and nationally. If your child is not in danger, then call the pediatrician’s office during regular hours to speak with the pediatrician or leave a message for them to call you back. After listening to your concerns, the pediatrician may also want an appointment to review the situation and assess your child’s health to make sure there are no medical conditions that could be contributing to their depression or anxiety.
  2. Talk to your child, and by talking, I mean listen. Paraphrase what your child tells you. Clarify what they say (sometimes they use new words and it’s okay to ask and not just pretend like we know what they are talking about). Ask them how they would like to respond to situations that bother them. Ask what they know about consent, bully, peer pressure, drugs, and dating. Ask who they sit with at lunch and what they talk about. Try not to jump in and give a solution. Listen. Let them talk and give them the chance to talk by keep parents’ and teens’ cell phones put away during meals and car rides.  Listening also takes the pressure off parents who reflexively want to do something. Don’t stress about saying the right thing or explaining things the right way. Just listen. We don’t have to say anything, let the kids talk.

Assess safety, talk to your child’s pediatrician about concerns, and listen to your kids. Breathe. Drink some water.