Twelve percent of female Canadians between the ages of 12 and 19 have experienced a major depressive episode. My daughter is one of them.
When she first came to me saying she felt a sadness she just couldn’t shake, I did what I think most parents do. I told her we’d get help. I booked an appointment with her family doctor and googled the hell out of teenage depression.
There’s a lot of information out there: checklists and quizzes and guides that tell you what to look for, what to say, what not to say. How to separate teenage angst from more serious mental health issues. When to get professional help and when medication or hospitalization may be required.
But there is very little information about how to get help or what it looks likes to get help. They don’t tell you how long it takes to medicate a teenager if medication is required. Or what to do if your teenager won’t talk to professionals or you can’t afford private therapy or therapy isn’t working. They don’t tell you what to do when your child says they need in patient care, but there is no where to take them.
According to Youth Mental Health Canada, two million Canadians between the ages of 12 and 19 are at risk for developing depression. Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world. Only 1 in 5 children who need mental health services in this country receives them. Why is this?
The media has started calling this state we’re in a mental health crisis. Corporations are directing community dollars to erasing stigma and from nearly every corner kids are urged to reach out and speak up about their mental health needs. They’re doing it. In record numbers.
But what are we doing as parents?
I’ve started to think that maybe we need to speak up, too. Maybe we need to be more vocal about the fact that there aren’t enough beds for youth under 18. There isn’t enough research about medicating teens. Most private health insurance, if you have it, covers only three visits to a private therapist a year. There aren’t enough psychiatrists who treat teenagers, enough support in schools for students or teachers or administrators on the front lines. There isn’t enough funding for youth mental health services, or enough pressure on tech companies to curb the addictive nature of their apps and devices. Maybe we also need to speak up and reach out.
If you had asked me three years ago if I felt our health system, our culture, our country — if I was adequately equipped to raise happy, healthy kids, I would have said yes. In an instant. Until it was abundantly clear, that wasn’t the case. I had no idea what I was up against or how challenging it was to live with this thing called depression.
I’ve learned a lot since then. Mostly about myself, but also about mental health, the science of happiness, the impact of technology in our lives, our health care system, parenting and more.
Since I started looking, I’ve discovered amazing, inspiring people who have walked this same path, either by themselves or with others, and come out the other side. And so many other parents, like me, with kids like my daughter, who are desperate for strategies and insight and hope.
Survivors, or people living in good recovery, often say that speaking out and sharing their experience, helps. It gives them purpose and strength and clarity. So, I’m hopeful that maybe by adding my own voice to this conversation, by sharing the lessons I’ve learned with others I, too, will find these things. And hopefully, in the process, so will you.