How to Talk to Kids About Depression
Parents often ask when and if they should talk to their kids about depression and suicide. Pediatrician Jordan Torres, D.O., shares tips on when to have the discussion as well as how and why it's important.
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Hi, I'm Dr. Torres from Cook Children's Pediatrics at Keller Parkway, and today I'll be talking to you about really a topic that's near and dear to my heart, especially in the pandemic, but it is starting that conversation with your children about depression and mental health.
Since the pandemic started, depression rates in our teenagers and adolescents have actually doubled. And ER visits for suicide attempts have increased by 50%. One in five children are depressed and contemplate suicide, and one in 11 will actually go to the ER with a suicide attempt. And this is a heavy topic, but it's an important one. And it's actually one of the questions I get asked the most. And so I wanted this to be a safe space for you to get a little more information and some tips on how to start that conversation if you're worried about your child.
And so, this is not the first time that this pandemic has been hard on everyone from our babies all the way up to our grandparents. This isn't new, we've seen increases in depression and suicide, even in prior flu pandemics in the early 1900s. That's not to scare you. But to know that this isn't new, and that we have things that can help. So if I had to have three big, three big tips, the first is to talk about it. So find a time a place where it's just you and your child. They're already calm, they're not rushing off to school or anything. And know that this can be sometimes the most nerve wracking part. But I find that the best way to start the conversation is to depersonalize it. So you can use those statistics, that's one way to depersonalize it to start the conversation or to make it about yourself. So that way, your child doesn't feel like they're being cornered. So you can say, I just heard a recent startling statistic on the news that depression rates are up two times what they were before. And I'm just worried about you. How are you feeling?
Or you can say I heard this statistic. And I know the last couple years have been hard on me. I want to check in on you. How are you feeling? Be patient. And if your child doesn't answer now or blows it off? That's okay, keep trying.
The second is to be ... to ask. So if you are genuinely concerned that your child has thought about hurting themselves, or you've actually seen signs of self harm, there is a lot of misinformation and concern that asking the question will either one, give them the idea, or two, make those ideas stronger. And I want you to know that that's not the case. It feels counterintuitive, but we actually know that asking if our our children have had those thoughts actually makes them less likely to commit suicide or attempt it. And so be loving, but direct. A lot of our kids are afraid that if they admit these feelings or thoughts, that they're going to worry their parents. Some of the most compassionate, loving teenagers I've met are the ones who struggle with these thoughts and are afraid to ever bring it up. So simply looking your kid in the eye and saying, I love you, I care about you. Nothing is going to change that. Have you ever thought about hurting yourself? Or that the world would be better off without you? And you might be surprised by the answer.
If your child says yes, or that they've thought about it in the past, the third and final step is to ask for help. As your pediatrician, or your pediatrician that you have, we want to walk through this with you, you do not have to carry this alone and your teenager doesn't either. And so if this is a thought that your child has had in the past, bring it up to us. We want to walk with you. I always use the example that coping with depression and feeling of doubt, being down is a lot like driving in a rainstorm. You need a GPS and you need your windshield wipers.
So some people need both. GPS is counseling and those resources. How do we navigate through these hard times? The windshield wipers can help us see clearer in the storm so we can get home. Sometimes that comes in the form of medication. Sometimes children need both or one or the other. We want to have that conversation with you and make that the right decision for you and your child. However, if your child has active thoughts of hurting themselves know that you also have help. Seek help immediately. And now we actually have the national hotline is even easier to call. It's 9-8-8 and you can call it day or night to get help.
But these are heavy topics, but the more we talk about them, the more comfortable they can get. And the more we can help our children who need it. If you have more questions, or want to start that conversation you can also see Cook Children's Behavioral Health for more information.