With the recent stories about the deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade in the news, the topic of suicide has been on our minds. A lot of us wonder how two people who appear to have had such enormous success could have been troubled enough to take their own lives. Clearly there was an enormous chasm between their media-generated, public personas, and their private internal suffering.

People vulnerable to suicide battle a daily exhausting barrage of depressive thoughts: “I don’t deserve all of this good fortune”, “I’ve achieved all my goals. Now what?”, “My family would be better off without me”, “I SHOULD be happy; I have everything. And I am not”. This self-deprecating thinking, a common feature of depression, is exhaustingly dehumanizing while also creating a profound disconnect between outer and inner selves.

Many of the teens and young adults we see in one-on-one therapy and in groups at In Step appear to the outside world like highly functional, happy, social beings. They earn good grades, play sports, and hang out with friends. But, their exterior personas belie a darker, less confident self on the inside. These young people feel out-of-sync with the roles they play and instead experience intense worries about who they are and whether they measure up in the outside world. Incessant thoughts such as, “I can’t handle this”, “I’m such a phony. Nobody knows who I really am or they’d hate me”, “I’m going to fail because I’m such a loser”, expressed only to themselves, in a vacuum, leave teenagers feeling defeated and hopeless. Most feel uncomfortable giving voice to these thoughts and feelings for fear of rejection and worse, dismissal, by their family and friends. “You are fine. Look how well you are doing.” “What do you have to be unhappy about? You have it all.”

In a recent Washington Post article, Anthea Rowan explores this subject with leading British child psychiatrist Dr. Michael Shooter whose book, “Growing Pains”, is based on his personal experience with depressive illness and his forty year career of treating young people. In her interview Rowan asks him how parents can seek help for young people at risk of suicide. Dr. Shooter reminds parents that listening to children is what is most important; earning the trust of their children takes time and may require a gentle back and forth to understand what is needed; whether it be a safe space at home to talk or in the office of a trusted therapist. Shooter reminds us of how important it is to “search out the strengths that all children have” and build upon them.

As a parent, you are not trained to recognize the differences between symptoms of depressive illness and your teen’s typical emotional ups and downs. That is all right. The key is letting your child know you are fully engaged and care. You will make sure your child gets the help they need.

There are a variety resources for parents of teens battling depression. Local YMCA chapters often have support groups for both parents and teens, and they are located throughout the country. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can also connect parents with support groups in their area. For parents who don’t live near in-person support groups or don’t feel comfortable going to them, the Depression And Bipolar Alliance runs Balanced Mind Parents Network, an online community. There are a host of additional resources, including organizations supporting LGBTQ, and gender nonconforming teens here.

At In Step we offer individual, family, and group therapy for teens and adults with anxiety and/or depression. Our services are provided by licensed experienced professionals who, as explained by Dr. Shooter, work to first build trust and then to build lasting change with their clients. Our teen and adult groups include:

  • Teen interpersonal groups for adolescents who need the support and self-exploration brought by a group of peers with similar struggles
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) for teens and young adults (DBT is an evidenced-based therapy designed to treat people who experience suicidal thinking and behaviors that are disruptive such as maladaptive coping skills and self harm.)
  • Women’s Groups – Taking Steps to Self Care groups designed to promote self-understanding, boost feelings of self-worth, and deepen connections with others.

You can read the remainder of Rowan’s Washington Post interview with Dr. Shooter here.