waiting for help fo your teen's depression
Help your teenager

What do do while waiting for help that actually helps

What to do while waiting for help that actually helps your teenager is an important lesson to learn. Chances are, you will have to wait, and your teen’s depression may get worse. Here are five things I’d recommend.

My daughter went from acknowledging she felt depressed and asking for help to actively wanting to die in about four months. It was fast. Faster than I ever could have imagined.

New to parenting a teenager who struggled with depression, and trusting our health care system, I blindly followed directions and ignored my instincts.

I thought I was covered. I had notified my doctor, opted for private therapy versus waiting for public services. Through family connections, I was lucky enough to find a psychiatrist. I trusted all the steps we were taking would make my daughter well.

But things got worse before they got better. And I watched her health decline. Patiently. In retrospect, I wish I had sounded alarm bells.

If you’re waiting for support for your teenager, here are my top five tips for what to do while waiting for help that actually helps.

1. Keep a journal

Start it as soon as you’re aware your child is having problems because details and dates become fuzzy and skewed by emotion. Record changes in behaviour and frequency and duration of episodes. It’s also helpful to record medications and doses. Take it to appointments and be sure to get the names and contact information of any professionals you’ve been in touch with, because I can guarantee you, these things will get lost in the moment.

2. Keep your child at the centre of things

Mental health professionals will talk about typical symptoms and behaviour related to depression, but you know your child better than anyone. My daughter has always been very high functioning, even when she’s severely depressed. I know this now. I didn’t at first and so I missed signs of depression in her for months. While online guides and doctors can tell you how depression usually manifests itself, remind yourself who you’re dealing with. Use the checklists as guideposts, but keep your child’s unique nature at the centre of the things, and trust your gut.

3. Seek different types of help at the same time

For some unknown reason, I approached getting help in a linear fashion. I went to our family doctor, who suggested a therapist, who suggested a psychiatrist, who eventually suggested the emergency room. You can seek different health care providers at the same time. Talk therapy is great, but it may not be enough. Rather than wait to find out if antidepressants were necessary, I wish I had requested a referral to a psychiatrist right off the bat because psychiatrists, I learned, are in short supply. If you find you don’t need their services in the end, you can easily remove your name from the waitlist. Likewise, you can use services such as the What’s Up Walk-In Clinics to fill the gaps between appointments.

4. Be a vocal connector

As a newbie to the mental health care system, I very dutifully got in line, confident that we had been triaged accordingly. I didn’t understand that new referrals go to the bottom of a giant pile. Or that the emergency room really was a legitimate step in getting help, not just for acute emergencies. As you ping-pong from one trained professional to another, it’s up to you to connect the dots. Make sure you update all the professionals you’ve seen on your progress and alert them to any changes in your child’s health. Your updates may prompt them to try to move you up the list or suggest an alternate solution. They may also see something you don’t.

5. Know what constitutes an emergency

Professionals will tell you to go to emergency if your child is in crisis or at risk of self-harm, but what exactly is a crisis in the case of depression? It’s hard to tell if your teenager is cutting to ease their pain or depressed enough, for long enough, that they don’t want to live. While I was regularly asking my daughter if she felt at risk to herself, I should have been asking more specific questions. The Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale can help you identify a potentially life-threatening situation. There are six questions. If your child answers yes to questions 4, 5 and 6, take them to emergency. The Association for Children’s Mental Health in Michigan also has a good guide to identifying and handling a crisis situation.

Have more tips for what to do while you wait? Please share them in the comments below.

Further reading:

2 thoughts on “What do do while waiting for help that actually helps

  1. The Journal is an awesome idea!!!!! Cause i pretty much think my depressed teen is depressed all the time, but you are right, some depressed days are worse than others. We are on the same meds as a year ago and not happy about them but the doctors can’t suggest anything else and she’s not willing to try a 4th drug!

    1. I hear you on that one!! It’s so hard some days to remember or even take note of the subtle shifts in mood. I hope the journal idea helps. Also, have you tried GeneSight? It’s a blood test that helps pinpoint what medication might work best (or what ones won’t). I didn’t know about it until we’d found a mix that seemed to work, but it might be worth checking out if she changes her mind. Unfortunately, it’s not covered.

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