Supporting Your Teenager Through Depression

My son is so worried about his exams next month that he’s making himself really ill.  It’s awful to have to watch.  I’ve already written about being worried about the drop in his appetite.  Of course as a parent, you want to avoid your children suffering – you look after them, you try to give them what you think is good advice, you fuss, nag, shout or praise depending on your personal style.  But against depression, what can you do?  Perhaps some parents – with some children – can intervene and stop the process, but I suspect nature is against the rest of us.  (This doesn’t make it any easier to accept.)

ImageMy son has Asperger’s, and his thinking can be rigid at times.  I encourage him to talk to me about his worries and I listen to what he says. I know enough about CBT to spot some of the classic thinking traps, but usually I try to keep quiet. Just occasionally I can’t stop myself and I ever so gently imply that there is an alternative way to think about something – an alternative that would be less painful, less guilt-ridden, less brutal.  I am always roundly rebuffed.  He is going through a phase where it is so important to reject advice from parents, that he hardly listens to a word I say.  He has to reject it, he has to refute it (no matter how thin his arguments against), he has to stake his independence.  I can see the path out of his prison, but he won’t take it until he finds it for himself.

Isn’t this always the problem with supporting someone with depression?  You are sitting outside the prison with the key to the door in your hand, but they refuse to take it from you?

It seems all I can do is what I am doing: watching out for him in practical ways, making sure he gets to bed at a reasonable hour, cooking for him, nagging him to wear his coat when it rains.  I have arranged for him to see professionals for the depression, we take him to his appointments, I try to give him space to talk if he wants.  I talk to the school, trying to explain why this is not just normal reluctance to do exams, but something more dangerous.  I try to make sure he doesn’t become isolated in the family, I encourage him to come on family outings (he doesn’t usually want to go), I make sure he sees his friends.

There’s a fair chance he won’t even be able to take these exams – he’s been unable to take several in the past.  There are serious problems building up for him in the future if he carries on skipping them.  And in the meantime, his mood is getting bleaker, and more savage with every day that passes.  But all I can do it seems is watch and support him.

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15 comments
  1. Hearing how much you care for your son and your wisdom and desire to help is such a beautiful thing 🙂 He is lucky to have you!

    • Thank you, that’s very kind. I just wish I could actually do more good for him… But parents are hardwired to want to make things better for their kids.

  2. Aimee said:

    “Isn’t this always the problem with supporting someone with depression? You are sitting outside the prison with the key to the door in your hand, but they refuse to take it from you?”

    Yes. This, exactly. That’s how I felt so often with my husband. He’d complain about the prison, I’d hold out the key and he’d (metaphorically) smack it out of my hand. I can tell how much you love your son and how concerned you are for him. I think he probably knows that on some level.

    Thank you for reading my blog and linking back to it. I think it’s wonderful that you’re talking honestly about your son’s depression. Not enough people do that, it’s why there’s such a stigma around mental illness. Keep speaking your truth.

    • Thank you, and I think your blog is incredibly brave and inspiring Aimee. I hope it is helping you to write it. I know it helps me to voice what I feel here.

  3. tric said:

    Your sons mental health is so much more important than exams. He is struggling, but he is also growing and learning. Hopefully in time he will learn to cope better. I hope you can remain as strong as you can. This must be so trying and troubling for you. I can offer little advice, i am sorry.

    • No, I think you are right – there just are no easy solutions to these situations. He’s very young, and he’s got a difficult task to learn how to manage this.

      • tric said:

        If only we could look into the future and see that everything would work out. Parenting is so hard especially when they grow older, and you have an added complication.

      • Wouldn’t that be nice? I would just love it if I knew the ending of the story and I could say to him with 100% confidence “It’s going to be fine: you’re going to work it out, go to university, meet the right woman and marry her, solve the problem of global warming, win the Nobel prize – oh and give me some grandchildren while you’re at it too.” I would be so much more relaxed about this stage!

      • tric said:

        Sleep on that thought. You of all people must believe in him.

  4. Joy said:

    No practical support but (((((Hugs)))))

    • Thank you Joy. It’s probably what I need most – it’s not as if I’m short on experience.

  5. dhonour said:

    I think that you are 12 steps ahead of the game already, by being aware of his tendency toward depression, by looking out for signs, by pro-actively seeking help. When you are deeply depressed, and I speak from experience, it is difficult to see a way out, and it is easier to dismiss the help of others, to shoo away the helping hand, to presume they have never stood on the abyss and stared into it. Some times the passing of time helps, lots of time medication and therapy combined help tremendously. I hope you find what works for you both. Keep on doing what you’re doing, being a good mom.

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