A topic most shy away from. Now I know why. I’ve attempted to write this guide 50 times or so over the past few years. Each time I ripped it up and tossed it. Because I was trying to protect everyone’s feelings while at the same time considering every possible circumstance because I’m hyper-aware of just how much guilt parents carry when it comes to their child’s mental health.
My conclusion? It’s impossible to write this piece without upsetting some or pissing off others.
However, this is the one topic you shouldn’t be shying away from because you, dear parents, more than anyone, can have the greatest influence on your child’s mental health.
That can be both a positive and negative influence.
So, if you’re reading this and you suddenly feel an unsolicited bowel movement coming on, please take comfort in knowing that the advice given here is devised in a way to ultimately strengthen bonds and alleviate a whole lot of unnecessary crap.
Why Am I Writing This?
Unfortunately, and I say this lovingly, your actions can also make their anxious reality a whole lot worse.
Right now, you probably have no clue how to manage this. That’s not your fault. Few people on this planet know what to do. And with limited resources available, I decided to take a stab at it once and for all.
This is not a stab in the dark. I’m not just pulling this out my ass. It’s based on conversations with hundreds of people. I’m simply highlighting some powerful tips which you can incorporate to better support your child through the nightmare that is anxiety and depression.
This is primarily for parents. However, partners, loved ones, friends and siblings are all invited.
My motivation is threefold:
1. A vast majority of those suffering from anxiety trace it back to childhood.
2. They often hold some form of resentment towards their parents — even though they usually understand you were doing your very best.
3. Because they love you more than anything and want to make you proud, they are terrified to say something or admit this for fear that a) they might hurt you, b) you dismiss it, c) you get mad or d) any number of reasons. Basically, it’s because they’re terrified.
I think it’s fair to say we’re all a little terrified when it comes to this stuff.
It’s time to let the guard down. The stakes are too high. You can change this reality. And in doing so, become the biggest fucking hero they’ve ever known.
I want to introduce you to “Sarah.” Sarah has kindly agreed to play the role of your child today. She can be 15 or 55.
My assumptions for Sarah are:
- She wants to be successful
- She wants to make you proud
- She wants to find love
- She knows she is struggling
- She feels overwhelming guilt for this which makes it worse
- She is in a constant state of chronic stress
- She fights every second of every day trying to figure this out
- She is confused
- She is miserable
- She is starting to lose hope
- She is petrified
- She needs help
- Oh, and she has debilitating anxiety, with a healthy dose of depression. Not exactly a barrel of laughs.
Fortunately, with a little intervention, assistance and willingness from both of you, this nightmare can soon become a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, there is no puzzle on planet earth more complicated for Sarah than her life seems right now.
So, let’s see what you can do to ease the pressure by providing her with the encouragement and support she needs to turn that feeling of helplessness into hopefulness.
Here Are 9 Simple Tips to Best Support Her Through Anxiety and Depression:
Sometimes, all Sarah will want from you is to understand. Or to at least try to understand. And to have any hope of understanding this beast, you’re going to have to listen.
Seriously. Give it a go!
You might think she’s exaggerating. You might think you know what’s best for her. You might even try to force your views on her and dismiss her goals as silly.
Even if you’re right—this is a terrible idea. Pissing off a depressed or anxious person is the easiest job in the world. And you, as her parent, are most vulnerable to the backlash.
Even if it’s a silent backlash — your actions can fuel resentment, anger and way too much frustration for her to handle.
You do not know what’s best for her. But if you start listening and asking the correct questions, you’ll soon know a hell of a lot more than you currently do.
Eventually, this will propel you into a position where she will both trust and listen to you — all because you have demonstrated that you are capable of listening without judgment while doing your best to understand.
When you listen intently, you will begin to hear her needs, and when you know her needs, you can then help steer her in the right direction.
2. Accept (some) responsibility.
I’m not saying this is all your fault. There are way too many variables at play for my little brain to contend with right now. However, there’s a possibility you’ve unintentionally facilitated her anxiety through some of your parenting ways.
Yes, it is her responsibility to take control of her life and seek support regardless of the circumstances that brought her here. The reality is that she will also be feeling completely hopeless which makes playing the victim one of her easiest options. And that’s the last thing you want to facilitate.
She may or may not hold some resentment towards you. Be open to the possibility. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. I don’t see anyone walking around this planet with a halo on their head, do you? So cut yourself some slack.
You can shock her today by apologizing for any mistakes you may have made in the past, and by facilitating a conversation which allows her to get some much-needed shit off her chest.
One of the most powerful emotions we can experience in life is true forgiveness — letting go that the past could have been different.
Sarah needs to forgive so she can get on with her life. You can help her. And in doing so, she can drastically change the course of her life for the better.
Imagine just how impactful the words, “I’m sorry” can be now?
3. Show true empathy and compassion.
We’ve made some progress with the stigma. No question. But we’re only scratching the surface with this beast. Stigma can be broken down into many facets. It still casts a very dark cloud over the heads of those trying their best to manage anxiety and depression.
Sarah is a victim of the stigma as much as the next person. Let her know that shit don’t fly in your house.
Showing true empathy is near impossible with little understanding. That’s why it is so important to listen and ask questions. Because if you can’t understand it on a psychological, physiological and emotional level, you have to at least try and understand it on a human level.
But be careful…
Don’t pity her. Pity is a pass for someone to feel sorry for themselves. Absolutely no good can come from self-pity. Trust me. So as difficult as it may be, do your best not to facilitate it because it will do no good in the long run.
Empowering her instead should be the goal, and you can begin to do that through empathy and compassion.
4. Be proactive.
It’s a challenging time for all involved. I get it. So it’s easy to brush it under the carpet the minute you no longer hear about it and assume everything is better.
This is not a solution. It is avoidance.
The reason for Sarah’s silence on the matter is likely due to exhaustion and the realization the support she has been receiving thus far is crap.
If you’re not proactive, you’ll only hear about it the next time a full breakdown occurs, and she can’t take it anymore. This will be an extreme response to a feeling of overwhelming weakness. And it often comes in the form of overwhelming anger or sadness.
Not exactly the outcome you’re looking for.
5. Help her.
Help her in any way you can. If she is miserable in her job, support her in the search for a new career. Even if the financial prospects are less promising, depression and anxiety are too great a cost for any career. Finding work is a ballache — especially in today’s market. But it’s nowhere near as big a ballache as being depressed and anxious for the rest of your life.
Maybe it has nothing to do with work or money. Great. Find that one area in life causing her the most distress and help her to see the endless solutions available.
Do not play the “starving kids in Africa” or the “homeless” card.
If you don’t know how to help her, find someone who can. She might need outside help. Get it for her. If she can’t afford it, figure out a way. It’s a tiny price to pay for her future. And it will end up being a hell of a lot more expensive in the long run if she doesn’t get it.
Having said that, the goal should always be to move her into a position where she is completely independent of you. Empower her. Always.
6. Tell her you’re proud.
I know 60-year-old men who would love to hear their parents utter the words, “I’m proud of you.”
Every child wants to make their parents proud. Don’t get caught up in the “keeping up with the Jones’s” crap where you’re pitching your kids against your friend’s kids as if they’re some fucking trophy.
A healthy family who is open and supportive of one another is far more successful than a family who hates their jobs and hardly talks. Aim to be a successful and happy family way before you aim to be an aspirational one.
Anxiety and depression is a mind rape. Depending on how bad she has it, Sarah might perceive a walk to the store as a monumental challenge compared to a sherpa scaling Everest in the nip.
Imagine just how bad you would feel if one day, something that was once so trivial turned into something so overwhelmingly terrifying. The mind has been raped. And it’s sucking your poor daughter of every ounce of energy she has.
Acknowledge she is trying. Tell her how proud you are for all her efforts. And do it often.
This stuff destroys confidence like nothing else I know or can imagine. Don’t hold her to the ridiculous standards set by society. We’re all going to die. That much is a fact. It seems so crazy that we get so caught up in so much bullshit.
Many parents keep piling on the pressure while dismissing their child’s mental health issues. There’s a word for them: assholes. I’m assuming you’re not one.
Our united goals should be in doing whatever we can to lift each other up. Not in a delusional way. But in a way that makes our existence here a pleasant one.
Maybe you’re not proud of her today because she’s not meeting your expectations. That’s on you. Tell her you’re proud regardless. See how much better her life gets when you change your script. When she does end up happy as a result, you’ll be beaming with pride.
She might succeed out of spite regardless, but it will be a hell of a lot more challenging, and she won’t be thanking you in the end. So tell her you’re proud. It will motivate and inspire her — the way we all want to be motivated and inspired.
7. Give her permission not to be OK.
If I were Bruce Almighty himself for a day, I would inflict paralyzing depression and anxiety on the entire population for 24 hours so they could experience the hell of it and gain a true understanding of just how horrifying it is. And I’d give myself a pot of gold.
You don’t just shake off the flu, and you certainly don’t just shake off anxiety or depression.
You’ll significantly speed up her recovery by giving her permission not to be OK.
Remember — she wants to be OK. Unless, of course, she feels she is being pushed into an environment she can’t stand where she believes she will never be OK. That move will almost always backfire.
8. Give the gift of belief.
This is not about creating delusional confidence. That ship has sailed.
Even if you don’t believe in yourself, or her for that matter, don’t let that be one of the reasons she doesn’t believe in herself. Who knows what she is capable of?
She has goals. If you communicate that you truly believe in her often, and follow these steps as a guideline, you will greatly enhance her prospects of accomplishing her goals.
And when she fails — because she will — congratulate her for trying. This is not your, “I told you so” moment. It’s important to fail. The younger everyone learns that the better.
We’re brought up to live in fear of failure because the school systems are fucked. Don’t assume for a second they’ve done — or will do — a good job with your child. Intervene. Teach them real life. That it can suck. And that’s OK.
Most successful people in the world have an unshakeable belief in themselves. And they’ve all failed spectacularly.
Most, not all, attribute that to someone they love. Be that someone she loves.
9. Find leverage.
How is she meeting her needs? Right now, anxiety or depression is meeting her needs. It becomes an unconscious addiction. She wants out. But that requires work.
It’s easier to remain depressed, anxious, and miserable — especially without the right support.
When she confides in you after earning her trust, you can begin to give her advice. It’s important to listen to her needs. Once you know what she is looking for, what she values, what will give her meaning in life — jump on that bastard and support her as best you can till she’s on the right track.
Leverage is extremely powerful. If you follow the above tips, you should be able to identify what will work for her. And when you do, well, life’s going to get a whole lot better for everyone.
What happens next?
Hopelessness turns to hope. The sun will begin to shine. And she will be far more enthusiastic about all life has to offer.
I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s a challenging time for all. She might want to be the next Beyonce even though she sounds like Jay Z. Expectations, delusion and all that shit will have to be managed if things have got way out of hand.
However challenging, it will all be worth it. If you’ve some of the same bad habits, then maybe you could lead by example and do some of the tough work with her?
Maybe you’re struggling with your own mental health. I know that doesn’t make it easier, but you can work on this together.
Ultimately, it’s Sarah’s responsibility to do something about this. I just happen to strongly believe that if you do even half of what I mentioned above, you will greatly enhance the likelihood of her taking that responsibility on. And when she does, everything will be better.
I wish you all the luck in the world.
Follow this journey on Nicky Cullen’s blog.