Calling all parents

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE—Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.

This past Monday and Tuesday, I had the pleasure of escorting a young man from Philadelphia to all the community schools — where he spoke to the 9th-12th-grade students.

He also spoke at a community event for parents and community members.

These presentations were made possible by the generous donations and fundraising efforts of my organization CORE (Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences) and by the Warren County School District.

This young man, Andrew, is from the organization Minding Your Mind, whose primary objective is to provide mental health education to adolescents, teens and young adults, their parents, teachers, and school administrators. Their goal is to reduce the stigma and destructive behaviors often associated with mental health issues.

Andrew presented his mental health story of hope and recovery for approximately 40 minutes and then he opened it up for questions and discussion. A really cool thing that Andrew does is give students a texting number that goes directly to an app on his phone.

The students can ask their questions this way so that their questions remain anonymous.

Between the 4 schools in the county, he received well over 70 texts of questions and comments that he tried to address during the discussion after his talks.

He also answered personal questions of the approximately 25 students that waited in line to speak to him following his presentations.

The questions asked by these students were powerful and showed a level of understanding of needing help and wanting help. Some of these questions were:

“How do I help a friend who is sad and just not themselves?”

“What if a family member is depressed/suicidal and you start feeling down because you don’t know how to help them?”

“Do you have any ways to distract yourself from urges to self-harm?”

“What if your depression is too much to where you can’t talk to anyone?”

“My depression has been horrible recently, what should I do?”

“What if you have nobody to talk to or you’re too scared?”

“What do you do when you know the medication you are on is helping you but your parents don’t want you on it?”

“What do you do when you tell your parents you don’t want to be alive and they call you dramatic?”

A majority of the questions had to do with the last question above. Students attempting to ask their parent/guardian for help with feeling sad, depressed, anxious or suicidal and receiving feedback such as “you’re being dramatic”, “just deal with it; it’s life” and “you don’t need someone putting you on meds.”

I know, as a parent, kids can certainly be dramatic and exaggerate the ups and downs of life. However, when it comes to emotions and thoughts of self-harm or just not wanting to be alive it really is our responsibility to keep them safe and help them through whatever it is they may be dealing with.

Here is a question, if your child got a diagnosis from a Doctor of diabetes, a heart condition or a broken leg, would you tell this child to “deal with it” or “suck it up”? I would certainly hope not. However, why when a child gets a diagnosis of depression or anxiety and is struggling with suicidal ideation, our response as parents differs? Is it because we can’t see it as broken? We can’t see the tests that show diabetes or a heart condition? Just because you cannot see or touch what is wrong does not mean it is not happening.

Some of our children are struggling. It doesn’t mean they will struggle forever. The pressures of peer groups, social media, deciding what they want to be, dealing with family issues and many other circumstances have a way of bringing them down. When they voice they are feeling different, feeling sad, feeling confused LISTEN. Please listen. It doesn’t always mean they have to go see someone professionally or be prescribed medications. However, if it does turn out that they do isn’t that better than not having them around at all?

Andrew’s story is one of hope. He is the first to say that he waited too long to ask for help. The longer someone waits to ask for help sometimes the longer the road to recovery. He waited until he hit rock bottom and was ready to end his life. Students were encouraged and urged to not wait. Students were encouraged to talk to someone when they start feeling “different” and when things just don’t seem “right” to them. Let the students do what they were encouraged to do, but please, parents, listen to them, help them and be there for them. Start the conversation. You can’t see a hurt, depressed or anxious soul but it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Ask questions. Be observant of changes in appetite and sleep. Watch for isolation or a decrease in doing things socially. Above anything else, just remind them they can talk to you. Mental health issues are treatable. We need to stop the stigma of getting help and start speaking up and helping those that struggle.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.

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