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I didn’t always talk openly about my daughter’s struggle with depression. For a long time, I worried that it might make her feel worse. That my words might be fatal. Thankfully, she’s healthier now, and she’s okay with my talking. I’m glad, because lately I’ve been worried that my silence is doing more harm than good.
I’m Lindsey Lowy, director of consumer marketing at The Globe. I almost lost my daughter when she was 13, less than five months after she told me she needed help for what she thought might be depression. She’s among the one in five Canadians with a diagnosed mental illness.
As a parent of a teenager with depression, I’m not supposed to talk about it publicly. It’s not my place to discuss someone else’s mental health, and her therapist would say to put her needs above all else. If I need to vent or cry or express doubts about her care, I should do so with my own therapist or in a support group. But talking to other parents who are as broken and as frustrated as I am doesn’t solve what’s happening to our kids. It’s time to talk publicly.
Talking publicly about mental health is at the core of the Bell Canada “Let’s Talk” campaign, coming up next week. It’s been 10 years since Bell set out to eliminate stigma and increase understanding of mental illness. The initiative has raised over $100-million, and 86 per cent of Canadians say they are more aware of mental illness because of it.
The campaign has personal significance to my family. Without it, my daughter might never have asked for my help. But as much as I admire its success, the campaign is not enough. Youth mental health is still underfunded. Kids are still not getting the help they need, and parents are still crying out of despair and frustration.
Ann Douglas, author of Parenting through the Storm, an essential how-to manual for parents raising kids with mental illness in Canada, calls it “the club.”
“Welcome to the club – a club you never intended to join,” she writes. It’s a common refrain among parents of teenagers with depression.
One member of that club is a woman known only as Michigan Mom. She details her experience in brutally honest terms on HuffPost.com. Of moms like her, she writes: “We hide and we cry and pull our hair, and if we’re lucky, we talk to someone. But then we pick ourselves up off the bathroom floor and we go back. And that – that is the courage, the heroic courage of the parent and the caregivers, the quiet warriors of our weary world.”
The story surfaces every so often in online support groups. It’s shared as a source of comfort for parents, and strangely, it is comforting. We have all felt Michigan Mom’s exhaustion.
Jody Allard, in the Washington Post, puts it another way: “When my son was discharged from an in-patient psychiatric hospital after a few days, we left with a safety plan, a prescription for an antidepressant and a few phone numbers to call in an emergency. That was the beginning and end of our post-discharge support, and the ins and outs of parenting a child who wanted to die were left entirely up to me.”
So, yes, let’s talk. For real.
Let’s talk about the fact that psychiatrists, the most qualified people to prescribe antidepressants to youth, are in critical short supply in this country, as The Globe’s Erin Anderssen reports. Psychotherapy is still an out-of-pocket expense for most parents. And most health benefits do not cover a full treatment of cognitive behavioural therapy, the gold-standard in treatments for depression and anxiety.
Let’s talk about the cost – psychological and monetary – of keeping a depressed teenager in a hospital emergency room for days, with a security guard stationed outside their door, because there are no beds in a more suitable facility.
Or how terrifying it is to have your child released from hospital, only days after they were deemed too sick to leave, with little more than a safety plan and instructions to call your doctor – the very same doctor who sent you to emergency in the first place!
Let’s talk about how chronic stress, lack of sleep, anxiety, financial concerns and the struggles of maintaining a job, relationships and any semblance of a normal family life take a toll on your own mental health.
My daughter is relatively healthy these days. She’ll graduate high school in June and wants to be a neurologist. And I am armed with a fortress of information for handling depression and my own mental health, just as my son, susceptible to the same illness due to genetics, enters his teen years.
Part of me thinks I should leave it at that. Keep watch over my family, thank my lucky stars we’ve made it this far and say “good luck to the rest of you,” but I can’t. If I’ve learned anything from being at The Globe, it’s that public outcry leads to policy change. We parents in the thick of it – those who feel they can speak up – need to get loud.
What else we’re reading:
If you want to learn more about what it’s like to experience depression, listen to APM’s podcast, The Hilarious World of Depression. Host John Moe interviews top entertainers such as Gary Gulman, Neko Case, Wil Wheaton, John Green and many more about their own experiences with depression. It’s both funny and heart-wrenching – every episode is like an emotional cleanse.
And if you have kids, make sure they’re aware of BeThere.org, a five-step guide to talking about mental illness. Jack.org, the organization that created it, surveyed 1,200 youth and found that 83 per cent had supported a friend with mental-health challenges. Only 39 per cent felt they knew what to do. That’s a heavy weight to bear as a kid, so help your kids help their friends.
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