By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, HOWARD LAKE, WAVERLY, WINSTED, MN In pursuit of educating their communities on issues teenagers regularly struggle or interact with, the Dassel-Cokato and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school districts hosted a community symposium April 24, where county officials spoke on internet and cell phone safety; heroin, opioid, and other drugs; healthy relationships; sex trafficking; and depression, anxiety, and mental health.
An article on internet and cell phone safety appeared in the May 4 edition of the Enterprise Dispatch.
The depression, anxiety, and mental health session was led by Nathan Schrick and Tasia Cloutier of Solace Counseling Associates, LLC in Delano, who also meet with HLWW students regularly on campus.
As was shared in their presentation, about one in four children, teens, and adults deal with stress, depression, and anxiety, but only 25 percent of those individuals are getting treatment. One of the reasons these issues often go untreated is that there is still a huge stigma around mental health, according to Cloutier.
“We’re hoping that the more education people have, the more they’ll realize it’s just a common thing a lot of people go through, and there’s no need to be afraid to ask for help,” she stated.
According to Teenhelp.com a resource often referenced to in the symposium session depression is the most common mental health disorder among teens and adults in the US.
Depression is defined as an illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities one normally enjoys, accompanied by the inability to carry out daily activities for at least two weeks.
This clinical definition is useful for recognizing depression, but Cloutier pointed out that it is important to remember depression is analyzed on a spectrum.
“You’re going to have cases of really mild depression and cases of really clinically severe depression,” she commented. “And just because someone might not be diagnosed with clinical depression does not mean it’s not an issue.”
It was reported that in 2014, about 2.8 million youth (ages 12 to 17) had experienced at least one major depressive episode. This doesn’t mean it ended for them there, however. About 20 to 40 percent of teenagers who suffer with depression will have more than one episode within two years of each other, and 70 percent will experience another episode before adulthood.
These episodes last an average of eight months, and can be triggered by stress, a significant disappointment, a chemical imbalance, a loss of relationship (family, friend, boy/girlfriend), genetic disposition, certain medications, a traumatic event, social problems, and unresolved family conflicts.
Other times, episodes can be set off by small instances or can seem to come out of nowhere.
“I think what we [adults] often forget is that little things to us are big things to them,” Cloutier stated, adding that a teenager’s world mainly exists at home, school, and maybe a job (if they’re old enough).
“Their world is pretty small in the grand scheme of things,” she continued. “So, when something happens, it’s a big deal to them.”
Because these causes of depression can be quite significant to the teenager, the methods used to cope with the situations can also be extreme, such as partaking in risky sex, self-harm, and substance abuse.
“Many times, when working with kids and adults,” said Schrick, “they’ll say [they] drink so [they] don’t have to think about anything else. It makes the feelings go away. It makes the pain go away.”
As a result, depression has become one of the key factors that leads to addiction.
Schrick’s church was once attended by a group from Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge a treatment center for adults and teenagers dealing with substance abuse and one of the members of that group shared with him that, “it was very difficult kicking my heroine habit but that was the first part. The rest and the longest part of my battle was [having] to find out why I wanted to bury myself in those drugs.”
Cloutier stated that the clinical treatment plan proven to be the most effective is the combination of therapy and medication; not one or the other.
“I don’t believe you can solve all your problems just by taking a pill,” she commented.
According to Cloutier, depression often walks hand-in-hand with anxiety.
The American Psychological Association describes anxiety as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes.
Social anxiety and performance anxiety are some of the most common forms found among teenagers. Oftentimes, they will blame themselves even in situations that are not their fault.
Schrick, for instance, shared that he is currently working with a handful students who feel overwhelmed for missing a few days of school due to being ill, and now have to complete make-up work in addition to new assignments.
Having parents be able to regularly check grades online can also create a lot of stress in teens, as they may feel there is someone always keeping tabs on them.
Cloutier pointed out this is something new teens are experiencing; not something their parents likely grew up with.
“[This] technology is great (don’t get me wrong), but I think we don’t realize how much more stress it is creating for our kids,” she said.
Furthermore, Cloutier has noticed an increase in education pressures, stating that what her sixth-grade son is learning she didn’t get into until junior high.
“We’ve got to realize there’s a lot more pressure on these kids nowadays,” she commented.
Signs indicating that an individual might have this disorder include:
• excessive and irrational fear and worry (i.e. continually asking, “what if this happens. . .?”;
• feelings of apprehension or dread
• feeling tense or “jumpy;”
• obsessively watching for signs of danger;
• anticipating the worst;
• trouble concentrating;
• irritability; and
• feeling like one’s mind is “blank.”
Physical effects are often also present, and can consist of a pounding heart, sweating, headaches, an upset stomach, dizziness, shortness of breath, insomnia, muscle tension and/or twitches, and/or shaking or trembling.
Signs of contemplating suicide
When it comes to monitoring one’s child for signs that they may attempt suicide, it can sometimes be difficult since the signs often overlap with typical adolescent behavior.
Regardless, some of the often occurring signs include:
• talking about death and/or suicide (seriously or joking);
• expressing worry that no one cares about them;
• planning ways to kill him/herself;
• previous suicide attempts;
• exhibiting dramatic changes in personality and/or behavior;
• withdrawing from interacting with friends and family;
• begins acting recklessly and engaging in risk-taking behaviors;
• showing signs of depression and/or substance abuse;
• giving away sentimental possessions;
• hanging out with others who glamorize suicide.
One common misconception about suicide is that once someone decides to do it, there is no stopping them.
Cloutier debunked this when she stated that whenever she’s met with someone who attempted suicide and asked if he/she had really wanted to die, the teen responded with, “No. I just didn’t know what else to do.”
Advice for parents
Provided below are potential warning signs that an individual might be experiencing some extent of depression or anxiety. In analyzing one’s own child, however, Schrick stated that it is also important for parents/guardians to trust their gut:
“As parents, you are the main professionals of your kids. Paying attention could be the main difference in [treating] depression.”
• Focus on listening rather than lecturing let them know they have someone who will unconditionally and fully be there for them.
• Show gentleness with persistence don’t give up if they shut others out, and let them know there’s someone there to listen.
• Acknowledge their feelings don’t try to talk them out of depression (no matter the reason they feel that way), but let them know they are understood and supported.
• Trust the gut if the individual claims nothing is wrong, yet their actions speak otherwise, consider bringing in a trusted third party to speak with that person.
• Say helpful phrases “You are not alone in this. I am here for you;” “You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change;” “Tell me what I can do now to help you;” “You’re important to me. Your life is important to me;” etc.
• Avoid unhelpful phrases “It’s all in your head;” “Look on the bright side;” “Just snap out of it;” “You have so much to live for, why do you want to die?,” etc.
• Encourage them to talk to you anytime,
• Teach problem-solving skills and model it for them,
• Stay calm when they are upset,
• Listen without judgement,
• Validate them feelings,
• Reassure them verbally,
• Don’t put too much pressure on them,
• Encourage healthy habits (i.e. sleep and nutrition),
• Seek therapy,
• Consider medication.