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September 26, 2021 4 min read

For many parents, they have a happy and energetic kid that many times does an about face during the teen years and suddenly they no longer recognize the child that is growing up in front of their eyes.

Natalie, from Cleveland OH, noticed that her 15 year old daughter began sleeping longer periods on the weekends, she wasn’t concerned because she had heard that when kids grow up they sleep longer. But when her teen daughter, Eliza came home and announced that she was dropping out of the marching band at school and stayed in her room and slept for a whole weekend, she grew concerned. Then Eliza dyed her hair green and began leaving the house without telling her parents where she was going. Within 3 months, Eliza was not showering or brushing her teeth. Natalie shares “ I took her to the dentist and here they are calling me back because my daughter had developed 5 cavities since her last visit and wanted to have a serious conversation about oral hygiene. This was not my child.” Calling her best friend from college who was a therapist, she figured out that Eliza might have depression. Natalie says “My friend said that the personality change, and lack of personal care and sleeping were definite signs. We have started her on an antidepressant, but right now it’s touch and go, and hearing about how this can culminate into a suicide attempt, I am watching her like a hawk.” says Natalie.

Approximately 20 percent of teens experience depression before they reach adulthood, and between 10 to 15 percent suffer from symptoms at any one time. Only 30 percent of depressed teens are being treated for it.

“Jason was never one of the more confident kids in the class”, shares his dad, Derrick. Jason is 16 and spends a lot of time online gaming with his friends. His dad Derrick always wanted Jason to play basketball, but Jason, at 6 foot 4 inches, never showed much interest. “It has always been gaming for him.” shares Derrick. Jason began having panic attacks at 14 and now that he is learning to drive, he is consumed with fear and doesn’t want to get a car or a license. Derrick and his wife Michelle are so distressed. “All I wanted forever was to drive when I was a kid”, says Michelle, how is he going to get to college?” Jason is currently seeing a therapist and his parents are afraid that he will not be able to move out of the house. “He was always a bit shy and retiring, but a nice normal kid, I am just not sure how this happened. I thought we did everything right.” Says Derrick, who is very frustrated with the situation.

That one-quarter of teens will struggle with an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives seems staggering. This number has been steadily rising, though, for nearly a century. According to researchers who looked at mental health data for high school and college students from 1938 to 2007, more and more young people report symptoms of mental illness in general, and anxiety in particular.

Okay so we know that these kids are suffering, but what about the parents? To find out that your child who has developed a mental disorder like panic/anxiety or depression can be sad and hard on parents. Many feel that they have raised this child through from babyhood to middle school and now it’s time for them to shine and become more independent.

When Jennifer had a son who at 17 began acting strange and eventually was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she cried herself to sleep one night and the next morning sat down to pay bills but left her desk in fury when she couldn’t focus enough to do it. “I felt like the illness was about Chase, my son, but I was falling apart too, I couldn’t wrap my head around it and all we did was spend most of our time shuttling him between the psychiatrist and psychologist appointments. He would text me to come pick him up the first period when he got to school and I had to tell him he would have to stay at school, it was heartbreaking.” And I was really mad about everything for a while.”

Not only was Chase cratering, but the whole family dynamics changed due to his mental illness. For her husband John, “the lightheartedness we had always had at home was gone for a while. I felt like someone had died, and I didn’t trust my own instincts as a parent. How had I missed this? Had we been too permissive? What the hell happened?”

There is an old saying “You are only as happy as your happiest child.” For many families, just sitting with it and realizing that there can be happiness in the new normal. This can happen but it might take months or years. So if you are angry and tired and depressed as a parent, just realize it’s normal and even healthy to feel sad over what has happened. Just give it some time, and realize it’s okay to take the time to adjust to this new reality where life is more complicated and you have dropped your ideas about how your kid’s life would evolve.

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