Did you know adults aren’t the only ones who have trouble with mental health issues? Despite anxiety plaguing my childhood, I had no idea it was so common until recently. In fact, the CDC says that more than 4 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with anxiety.
Depression, while a smaller number, still affects nearly 2 million. Those are some very scary numbers, especially when you consider how many more haven’t even been diagnosed. I was one in that latter group.
My parents didn’t have a word for it back then, but they knew I was different even as an infant. Rumor has it, I would often scream uncontrollably until my dad would take me into a quiet room alone. I was terrified to sleep in my own bedroom, no matter what my parents said or did.
As I reached elementary age, it only worsened. Mornings were awful as the anxiety and dread were so severe I would often end up physically ill.
Anxiety and Depression in My Adolescent Years
As I got older, however, I began to learn to cope in some unhealthy ways that I may describe later. But for now, just know that while I smiled on the outside, I was still miserable on the inside. Social situations, new situations, situations I couldn’t avoid, they all sent me into a mental downhill spiral.
I would handle it as long as I could, and then eventually I would have a break down with heaving sobs. It would release the pressure and it would start all over again. My parents, as loving as they were, didn’t realize the seriousness of the emotional pain I was in. They did the best they knew how to do. But there was a lot they didn’t know.
They May Be More Than Just “Sensitive” – Your Children May Have Anxiety or Depression
Recently, I have seen a lot of people discussing their children’s fears and emotional difficulties and I hear a lot of the same things my parents said, “She’ll grow out of it.” “He just needs to toughen up.” “She has to learn to deal with life.”
While some of that may be true, looking back, my parents now say they wish they had known some things. They wish they had done some things differently. So I wanted to address parents today of kids who are struggling.
Parents with “sensitive children” who are just trying to find out if this is normal. Maybe you’re concerned that your teenager is withdrawing too much from you and others. Perhaps you have discovered your child is harming themselves. Maybe you have a child who cries a lot more than their peers.
These are just some signs that it may be a mental health disorder. You will see a few more of the many possible symptoms of anxiety and depression in children in the infographic to your left.
If these symptoms seem to fit your child, there are some very important things that you need to know. Please take some time to read the following four things you need to know about if your child suffers from a mental health disorder. Consider them carefully and if you decide your child needs help, seek out a therapist, or even talk with your child’s doctor.
Without further ado, the four things you need to know about anxiety and depression in children:
1. They’re Not Faking
I know, this is a tough one because kids do fake things, but anxiety attacks aren’t typically one of them. If your child or teenager has periods of time where they just seem to break down, ask yourself, “How would this actually help them?”
More than likely, you can’t really think of a way that it would. If your child is typically well behaved and compliant, please trust them. Listen to them. Find out how they’re feeling and ask if they know why. Don’t tell them they’re lying. Don’t tell them to stop making things up. Listen to them.
2. They Don’t Want To Do This
Children with mental illness know most kids their age aren’t curling up into the fetal position, rocking back and forth, sucking their thumb, twirling their hair, biting their fingernails, etc. They know they’re different and they don’t want to be different. They’re not trying to embarrass you. They want to be “normal”. But they can’t.
They are struggling within themselves to do the right thing. But it’s not as easy as it may be for you. If you haven’t dealt with chronic anxiety or depression, I am sure it can be hard to understand this, but it isn’t something they can control.
3. It’s Not Your Fault
My mom often blames herself for the way I have felt. And I’m sure others do as well. But Mom, Dad, it isn’t your fault that your child has anxiety. If your child had diabetes, or asthma, would you blame yourself?
I would hope not. I would hope that you would realize that children get sick. Likewise, people suffer from mental health disorders. It’s not your fault or your spouse’s fault. It’s especially not your child’s fault. It just is.
So give yourself some grace and don’t blame yourself. When you do, you might actually find it hurts your child even more as those with anxiety and/or depression tend to blame themselves for a lot of things anyways.
4. They Need Your Help
Sometimes it’s easy to say, “I don’t know what to do. So I’ll do nothing.” But that’s not good enough! I know, it’s hard. You may not understand what’s going on. You’re frustrated. Your child may act out in anger and tell you they don’t want you around.
But they do. And they don’t just want you. They need you to be there for them. They need you to listen to them. And they need you to help them. The type of help they need is different for each and every child. But they need you to help them find ways to fight back against mental illness and to help them reclaim their own smiles.
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