Depression & Suicidal Thoughts
Our emotions are what make us human. We wouldn’t want to be without love, hope and happiness. But life isn’t always easy, and when our children are facing a tough time, it’s natural for them to feel sadness. For most children, the hard times will pass, difficult situations will improve, their mood will lift and they can move on to brighter days. But we use the term ‘depression’ for situations when a child’s sadness lingers, even after a troubling situation has gone away, and stops them from living life to the full. At the extreme, this can mean thoughts of ending their own life: a very worrying and serious situation that TIC+ is ready to help you with.
What signs should I look out for?
Of course, every young person has a different personality. Teenagers, in particular, may seem downbeat and uncommunicative at the best of times, without suffering from depression. This means that, as the person who knows them best, it’s vital for you to look out for any changes in your child’s behaviour that could ring alarm bells.
Be alert if you feel that your child is withdrawing from family or school life. Other common signs of depression include them growing uncooperative, disobeying you, taking unneccessary risks with their health or self-harming. The condition is often linked, too, with other issues like learning disabilities, eating disorders and anxiety. If your child’s troubling behaviour continues, ask others close to them – both at home and school – if they have noticed the problem. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to consult your GP or one of the many organisations listed on the TIC+ website.
Studies suggest that several factors can contribute to a teenager developing suicidal thoughts – although this certainly doesn’t mean that anyone is ‘destined’ to have them. These could include an underlying mental health issue, a family history of suicide, past bullying or abuse, problems with drugs and alcohol, or unhappiness over gender and sexual orientation. Look out for warning signs like a fixation with death, and statements such as “I wish I wasn’t here” or “nobody would miss me if I was gone”. Be vigilant to your child’s Internet search history – especially if they look for websites linked to death and suicide – and be wary if they give away treasured possessions or their messages to you feel like goodbyes. If your gut feeling is that something’s wrong, it’s always better to act – even if it turns out to be a false alarm. There are lots of organisations out there to help you.
How can I help my child?
Nobody wants to feel like they’re meddling in their teenager’s life, but it’s important that you don’t dismiss the warning signs mentioned above. Find a quiet moment to calmly talk to them and raise your concerns, taking care not to embarrass or shout at them. Make it clear they can tell you anything without judgement – and listen to what they say without overreacting. It can be best not to overload them with questions and solutions, but just let them unload without interruption.
If your child is struggling with depression, the enormity of their feelings might mean they can’t talk about it the first time you approach them. That’s fine: it can be tough for them to tell you how they feel, particularly as a self-conscious teenager. If you’ve picked a bad day, try again soon when they seem more receptive. If you still make no headway, try suggesting they speak to someone else they trust, whether that’s a school counsellor, a favourite teacher, your local GP – or the caring team of experts at TIC+. Remind them that if it’s too difficult to talk to a TIC+ counsellor face-to-face, they have the option of using our online services.
Isolation can become a vicious circle in teenagers, sparking and deepening their depression. Encourage your child to get out there and be part of the world, keeping up their connections with friends and family members. Look at your family schedule and block in some time every week when they can be free to enjoy themselves with others and do what they love, whether that’s playing sport, performing music, going to a comedy gig, taking a walk or just being silly. The more sociable the activity, the better – especially if makes them feel like a valued member of a community with a role to play (eg. a band or a sports team).
Little things matter, too. Make sure your child gets a balanced diet, plenty of exercise and at least nine hours’ sleep every night: these are all important factors in helping them achieve a healthy mental state. Likewise, be sure to give yourself time to unwind, too, as this will give you the energy to deal with challenges that arise.
Above all, don’t bury your head in the sand. If the situation doesn’t improve, it’s time to seek professional help. Try to involve your child in the decision-making process by discussing with them the various treatment options available, and by contacting a few different counsellors to see which one they click with. That way, they’ll feel invested in the process and more inclined to move forward with it.
TIC+ offers a Parent Support & Advice Line. If your child lives in Gloucestershire and is between the ages of 0 and 25 and you, as a parent or carer, would like support, please get in touch. To make it easier to reach out for help we offer a choice of ways to contact us on Freephone 0800 6525675 or web-chat. Whichever option you choose, there is no need to make an appointment, drop-in anytime during our open hours.
Alternatively, if you would like to arrange counselling for a young person who lives in Gloucestershire and is aged 9-21, they can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. All they, or someone they trust, needs to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to give us some details so we can arrange an appointment.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.
For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!