BE AWARE OF YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS WHO ARE STRUGGLING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

 The struggle is real The struggle is real

Keeping yourself young and healthy is not just about eating right and doing exercise. Your mind also needs to be healthy and strong, and stress must be limited. Recently, I have had experience with family members and friends who are suffering from serious depression. I personally have loved ones who have attempted suicide, and one recently succeeded. Why is there so much unhappiness in this world? I am so worried about our children and their future and how they are coping with these issues. Even if our children seem to be living a healthy and happy life, it is hard for them to hear and understand that so many of their friends are having mental health issues. Raising children in this day and age is very difficult and complicated, and there are so many distractions. It is not something to take lightly, and cannot be fixed overnight. Whatever situations are happening in our children’s adolescence, through their teens, and into adulthood, they need to be working on themselves continually throughout their lives. Incidents cannot be put to sleep in hopes that they will go away. Some mental illness is chemical and you are born with it, and some can be environmental. It can be very difficult for parents to distinguish between what is normal moody behavior and someone who may be experiencing a true mental health crisis or clinical depression.

There are several signs to watch out for in regards to your children.

  1. Look for increased withdrawal and isolation from peers or family, which could manifest into more electronic time, changes in sleep and/or appetite.

  2. You may also see a decline in academics at school or a lack of interest in things that are usually enjoyed. The life that our kids live in is very different from what we grew up in, especially with technology and social media.

I feel that there are things that we can do as mothers and fathers to raise our children into healthy young adults. It is a learning process and every child is different. I have four very different children that have different personalities, different wants, and needs. There are times in my life that I wish I could have done things differently, but I never stop trying. My family is my joy and I will do anything for them.

 Eating meals together regularly is important for family connections Eating meals together regularly is important for family connections

Quality time with your kids

Most of us go through life half-present. But your child has only about 900 weeks with you before they leave your home. They will be gone before you know it.

In my own experience, I cannot emphasize enough that when you are interacting with your child, be 100% present. Just be right here, right now, and let everything else go. I get that it is difficult, and as a parent with four children, it is not easy. We all have our own hang-ups with work, our elderly parents, our own siblings, other children, social media, cleaning the house, cooking, the list goes on and on. But if you make it a habit several times a day, you’ll find yourself shifting into presence more and more often, because you’ll find it creates those moments with your child that make your heart melt.

Throughout the years, my husband and I have done things to help our children build a good foundation of the family and the importance of it. It is so important to always be talking with your kids—communication is key. What are they doing? How are they doing? Do they need help with anything? We have found that our best conversations are at the dinner table.

Research has shown that when children eat with their parents regularly, they are more likely to be emotionally stronger and have better health. Teens who frequently eat family meals are more likely to be well-adjusted, have good manners and good communication skills.

We try to eat as a family at the dinner table, at least four times a week. We try to do Shabbat (observance of the Sabbath) every Friday night. Sometimes it is hard to get together if your children are involved with activities after school.

 It takes a village It takes a village

Support and intervention

Because technology has made such a big impact on all of our lives, unfortunately, communication has gone downhill. People don’t converse as much. Children don’t talk to their parents as much and parents are missing signals from their children. If you see any negative signs from your children, have them see a pediatrician, a coach or a therapist. They need to talk to someone. There is a stigma that some people have of seeing a “shrink,” but you could be saving years and years of bad situations. I always say, “Little kids little problems, big kids big problems.” If you don’t set your kids up now with good, healthy communications, then they will have a hard time navigating the future in which they live. Worst case scenarios may lead to suicide. Don’t wait too long or let your teen’s depression or anxiety snowball. Your child could just be having a bad day, but when that bad day turns into bad weeks, it is probably more serious. Depressed people often keep to themselves, when secretly they’re crying out to be rescued. Many times they’re too embarrassed to reveal their unhappiness to others, including Mom and Dad. Boys, in particular, may try to hide their emotions, in the misguided belief that displaying feelings is a fifty-foot-high neon sign of weakness.

We shouldn’t wait for children or youth to come to us with their problems or concerns. As parents, we should be knocking on their bedroom door, parking ourselves on the bed, and saying, “You seem sad. Would you like to talk about it? Maybe I can help.”

Not all, but most kids who are thinking about suicide (called suicidal ideation) tip off their troubled state of mind through troubled behaviors and actions. Studies have found that one trait common to families affected by a son or daughter’s suicide is poor communication between parents and child. There are usually other issues going on in a child’s life at the time when he or she is thinking about taking his or her life.
Some examples of “other issues” are:

  • A major loss (i.e., breakup, divorce, or death)

  • Substance use

  • Peer or social pressure

  • Access to weapons

  • Public humiliation

  • Severe chronic pain

  • Chronic medical condition

  • Impulsiveness/aggressiveness

  • Family history of suicide

If your instinct tells you that a teenager might be a danger to himself, heed your instincts and don’t allow him to be left alone. In this situation, it is better to overreact than to underreact.

Never shrug off threats of suicide as typical teenage melodrama.

Any written or verbal statement of “I want to die” or “I don’t care anymore” should be treated seriously. Often, children who attempt suicide had been telling their parents repeatedly that they intended to kill themselves. Most research supports that people who openly threaten suicide don’t really intend to take their own lives and that the threat is a desperate plea for help. While that is true much of the time, what mother or father would want to risk being wrong?

Any of these other red flags warrants your immediate attention and action by seeking professional help right away:

  • “Nothing matters.”

  • “I wonder how many people would come to my funeral?”

  • “Sometimes I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up.”

  • “Everyone would be better off without me.”

  • “You won’t have to worry about me much longer.”

When a teenager starts making comments like the ones above or comes right out and admits to feeling suicidal, try not to react with shock (“What are you, crazy?!”) or scorn (“That’s a ridiculous thing to say!”). Above all, don’t tell him or her, “You don’t mean that!”  Be willing to listen non-judgmentally to what he or she is really saying, which is: “I need your love and attention because I’m in tremendous pain, and I can’t seem to stop it on my own.”

To see your child so troubled is hard for any parent. You need to nurture your kid, hug them, cry with them and deal with your own feelings later. In a calm voice, you might say, “I see. You must really, really be hurting inside.”

Seek professional help right away.

If your child’s behavior has you concerned, don’t wait to contact your pediatrician. Contact a local mental health provider who works with children and has your child or youth evaluated as soon as possible so that your son or daughter can start therapy or counseling.  However, call your local mental health crisis support team or go to your local emergency room if you think your child is actively suicidal and in danger of self-harm.

Share your feelings.

Let your teen know he or she is not alone and that everyone feels sad or depressed or anxious now and then, including moms and dads. Try to be reassuring that these bad times won’t last forever. Things truly will get better and you will help get your child through counseling and other treatment to help make things better for him or her.

Encourage your teen not isolate himself or herself from family and friends.

It’s usually better to be around other people than to be alone. But don’t push if he says no. Recommend exercise. It can be a simple walk or run. There are several theories of why exercise is good for depression.

  • Working out causes a gland in the brain to release endorphins, which is believed to improve mood and ease the pain. Endorphins also lower the amount of cortisol in circulation. Cortisol, a hormone, has been linked to depression.

  • Exercise distracts people from their problems and makes them feel better about themselves.

  • Experts recommend working out for thirty to forty minutes a day, two to five times per week.

Urge your teen not to demand too much of himself or herself.

Until therapy begins, this is probably not the time to give huge responsibilities that could be overwhelming. Suggest dividing large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones whenever possible and participating in favorite, low-stress activities. Small steps will help build self-confidence and self-esteem. If your child is getting treatment, remind them that it takes time with therapy and/or medication. Hopefully, they won’t be discouraged if they don’t feel better right away.

If you suspect your child might be suicidal, it is extremely important to keep all firearms, alcohol, and medications under lock and key.

Sometimes, in certain cases, outpatient therapy isn’t enough. An environment that the child or teen is in may be a big part of the problem. An inpatient facility may be the best option. There are many good facilities here in the United States.


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