Healing Together: Connecting Young Adults Living With Mental Illness
January 3, 2018 by Caitlin Mulrine
Guest Blog Post by Mia Ellis
When I was 20, I came to an alarming realization that something was wrong. A week before Thanksgiving, I ended an abusive long-term relationship, and it seemed my entire world fell apart overnight. As a senior at Towson University living in an off-campus apartment, the winter that followed was debilitating.
Some mornings, I could not get out of bed. I barely made it to class or work. I cried as I got dressed, cried as I got in my car and drove. At my internship, I tried desperately not to cry at my desk, but I would start shaking until tears eventually fell as I stared into my computer screen. When I got home from class, I started taking painkillers to feel less miserable. That got me through the evenings, relieved once I could get in bed and sleep once again. I hated mornings because I didnt want to participate in life, I just wanted to sleep. I was scared of being alone because of the dark thoughts that consumed me. I deleted my social media and ignored my friends I couldnt stand to see people happy and successful when I felt like a miserable failure. I became a shell of the happy and motivated extrovert I was, and I didnt recognize myself. I felt empty, alone, depleted, isolated, useless, and irrationally overwhelmed with the feeling that my life didnt really matter.
Common Barriers To Treatment For Teens And Young Adults
Many teenagers with depressive feelings are hesitant to ask for help from others, or to consider professional treatment, out of a fear of judgement or being misunderstood. Teens may feel that depression and mental health disorders mark one as abnormal, weak, ill-adjusted, or crazy. Teens may interpret their feelings as isolated incidents, minimize their experiences, or simply justify them as normal feelings for teenagers.
Maintaining regular communication with ones teenager is the best way to ensure their emotional health and stay on top of changes which may signal a problem. If youve noticed signs of depression in your teenager, ask how they have been feeling and gently bring up areas or behaviors that concern you. Try not to lead with accusations or bombard your teenager with too many questions at once. Instead, its best to prompt a discussion, listen, and offer support.
When discussing the possibility of professional treatment for your teen or young adults depression, listen to your childs concerns and questions and be ready to address them with an open mind. Stress that the goal of seeking a professional diagnosis and treatment is to help them cope with their feelings and give them the tools to solve underlying problems. Teens and young adults may resist the idea of treatment because of fears of medication or stigmas around treatment. Try and be respectful of these concerns, while encouraging compromise or positive first steps towards treatment where possible.
What Is A Depression Support Group
Depression support groups such as those sponsored by Mental Health America or the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance are geared toward meeting the needs of those with depression. While depression support groups are not psychotherapy groups, they can provide you with a safe and accepting place to vent your frustrations and fears and receive comfort and encouragement from others.
In a depression support group, members often share coping suggestions that others find useful. This helps give you the assurance that “someone else knows what I am going through,” as people share their struggles living with various types of depression. This camaraderie is vital in order to begin the healing process.
After joining a depression support group, you may realize that the best experts on depression are often those who live with it daily. But always check with your doctor before taking a new “suggested” remedy, including over-the-counter dietary supplements. Even natural remedies have side effects and may interact with medications.
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Warning Signs Of Deepening Depression
Parents should be on the lookout for signs of depression getting worse. Whether their child is at home or away at school or work, intervention may be necessary. Some of these warning signs include:
- Dropping grades. If your childs academic performance is declining, if they are skipping class and spending too much time alone in their room or if theyre coming home every weekend, these could be signals of worsening depression.
- Using or increasing use of alcohol and/or drugs. Young adults may use alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms when depression is getting worse.
- Unhealthy eating or sleeping patterns, including weight gain or loss. Both unhealthy eating habits and significant weight gain or loss are signs your young adult child is struggling.
- An increase in physical complaints. Increasing depression can often manifest itself in physical symptoms. If your child complains of chronic or worsening headaches, digestive issues, backaches, insomnia or feeling tired all the time, these are physical indications that her depression may be out of control.
- Communicating hopelessness or being fixated on past failures. If they constantly comment that they never do anything right, fail at everything or are increasingly sensitive, worsening depression could be the cause.1
What Is Samhsa’s National Helpline
SAMHSAs National Helpline, , or TTY: is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.
Also visit the online treatment locator.
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Dealing With Guilt Through Writing
While negative feelings such as guilt are not exclusive to those with a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, those suffering from these disorders often have the most trouble confronting those feelings.
Many of those struggling with depression or anxiety will turn to unhealthy, unhelpful, or even harmful ways to cope. This activity can help them find new, healthy ways to cope.
This exercise aims to elicit the cathartic benefits of expressive writing therapy, a popular positive coping intervention that was developed in the 1980s. Its a slightly adapted take on traditional expressive writing, however, in that it includes some questions and prompts to stimulate and guide participants as they write.
This group writing therapy intervention is designed to be conducted over three days.
On Day One, the focus is Reflection on what is underpinning those shameful or guilty feelings. Among others, participants use prompts such as:
- What is it you feel guilty about? and
- How do you feel right now about this?
Encourage your group to be as heartfelt and descriptive as they wish for a deep exploration of their feelings and thoughts.
Day Two builds on this reflection, but participants are encouraged to write a different and more positive ending to the event or situation they described on Day One.
The final part of this three-day writing therapy covers Lessons Learned, which includes prompts and questions such as What kind of future behaviour would demonstrate that you learned this lesson?
Mental Health Conditions Are Common Among Teens And Young Adults 1 In 6 Live With A Mental Health Conditionhalf Develop The Condition By Age 14 And Three Quarters By Age 24
For some, experiencing the first signs can be scary and confusing. Discussing what you are going through with others is an important first step to getting help. Speaking up and asking for help is a sign of strength. You will be amazed by the support you get simply by asking.
A mental health condition isn’t your fault or your family’s faultit develops for complicated reasons that researchers are only starting to understand. But we understand a lot about how you can live well with a mental health conditionand you have the power to take the steps necessary to improve your mental health.
Mental health services and supports are available and the earlier you access them the better. Many teens and young adults live full lives with a mental health condition. More and more teens and young adults are speaking out about their experiences and connecting with others. Check out Ok2Talk to see what others are saying. You are not alonethere are others out there going through the same things you are.
Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, its still an illness, and there should be no distinction.
Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
Thoughts of suicide: making plans to end your life
Severe out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors that causes harm to self or others
Sudden, overwhelming fear for no reason
Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight
Significant weight loss or weight gain
Excessive use of drugs or alcohol
Read Also: How To Get Out Of A Depressed Mood
Where Can You Find Support Groups
Whether you suffer from clinical depression, eating disorders related to depression, or anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder related to depression, there is a depression support group for your needs. You can choose between online support groups and physical support groups.
Most depression support group sessions are now hosted online in line with the social distancing rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have a dedicated helpline and faqs for members in need of help.
The Emergence Of Gender Differences During Adolescence
That women are twice as likely as men to have depression is a consistent finding in psychiatric epidemiology and is not simply a consequence of females being more likely to report, recall or seek help for depressive symptoms. Before puberty, boys are slightly more likely than girls to be depressed, but between the ages of 11 and 13 this trend is reversed, with girls outnumbering boys by two to one. This predominance of females over males persists for the next 35 to 40 years. Changes in gonadal steroids are only part of the explanation for this gender gap. Hormonal changes in adolescence, combined with dramatic changes in social environment and relationships, stimulate the development of greater affiliative needs in females such as a preference for intimacy and emotional responsiveness. One result of this is that adolescent girls can be left more vulnerable to the effects of negative life events, especially ones that have interpersonal consequences .
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Not Just Asupport Group
Members of our teen support group have access to the latest in social network technology including a dedicated activity stream, forum and chat room. In addition, members can participate in the larger wellness challenge through our inspirational wellness tools wellness tracker, friend reminders, mood mapping and kudos.
Depression And Transitioning Into Adulthood
Loneliness and social isolation are definitely some of the biggest challenges a depressed young adult may face. More severe challenges include self-harm, suicidal feelings and failing to take medication and/or go to therapy, says Christensen. Parents should remember there is a typical adjustment to college, even for normal kids. Theres excitement and stress, so keep that in mind. Even a child who is depressed may be just stressed by college and some of that stress is good. Parents need to tease out whats depression and whats typical stress, she says.
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Inside And Outside Worksheet
This Inside and Outside Worksheet can be a great tool for families with young children in therapy. It is intended for a child to complete, and the results can be discussed as a family to facilitate understanding and come up with solutions for family problems.
This worksheet includes an outline of a person or child with six boxes to fill in, three on each side.
The directions instruct the child to fill in the blank When I feel with a specific emotion.
Thinking about this emotion in a specific situation, the child is instructed to fill in the three boxes on the left side of the worksheet:
- I think
- My body feels
- I act this way
Once the child has filled in these three boxes, their next step is to imagine that their thoughts change. Maybe this is a natural change, or maybe they are instructed to imagine their reaction if they purposefully change their thinking to something more positive.
When the child has this new thought in mind, they fill in the same three boxes, except these are on the right side.
This exercise can help the child compare how they think, feel, and behave when they are struggling with an emotion, to how they might think, feel, and behave if their thinking were to change. It can help children to understand the value of modifying their thinking to make it more positive, in addition to helping parents and other family members understand what the child is going through.
You can find this worksheet at the link above.
Forms Of Teen & Young Adult Depression
Most instances of the term depression refer to major depressive disorder, characterized by severe and persistent low mood and a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities. There are, however, numerous types of depression which vary in their causes, severity, symptoms, and appropriate treatment approaches.
- Persistent depressive disorder, also known as dysthymia, can have fewer or less severe symptoms than major depressive disorder but lasts longer. Often, dysthymia lasts for more than a year. Although it is often described as low-grade depression, dysthymia requires treatment and is not a negligible form of depression.
- Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression which tends to worsen in a particular time of year.
- Bipolar disorder is not considered a depressive disorder. It does, however, involve severe mood changes where depressive episodes alternate with manic periods of increased energy and potential risky behavior.
Different forms of depression can require different treatment interventions. Knowing how to differentiate between these types of depression can help parents understand the causes and possible interventions for their teen or young adults struggles.
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For Young Adults: Dealing With Depression
Asking for help is not always easy, but its the first step towards feeling better. Remember that you dont have to have all the answers when you ask for help. You just need that something doesnt seem right and you want to know whats going on. Here are some important people you can talk to:
Parents, caregivers, or other people you trust
Talking with family or trusted friends can be very hard! However, other people can be a great source of support, and they may be able to offer help or guidance to reach out to other health professionals. When youre ready to talk, think about what you want to say in advance or even write down a few notes, especially if you feel nervous about the conversation.
Your doctor is an important part of your recovery. Your doctor may be able to treat you on their own. If not, your doctor will help you see a mental health specialist like a psychiatrist. Its important to see a doctor because some physical health problems may look like mental health problems, and your doctor will look at all possible causes.
A lot of people feel nervous when they talk with their doctor. You can find tips to help you prepare for your appointment and work with your doctor or any other mental health professional at www.heretohelp.bc.ca/factsheet/working-with-your-doctor-for-depression.
Best Overall: Mental Health America
Mental Health America
Mental Health America is a free, community-based nonprofit founded in 1909 to help those living with mental health issues and to promote the mental health of Americans. The aim of MHA is to help people with their mental health through prevention, early identification, and integrated care.
The organization offers online support groups and discussion communities for a variety of mental health concerns through the Inspire platform. It’s designed to connect patients, families, friends, and caregivers, so that they can exchange support and inspiration. Members of the community can post questions and problems to receive support from other members.
MHA also offers webinars to educate individuals, as well as a peer support specialist training program leading to a National Certification as a Peer Specialist credential.
Finally, Mental Health America offers an intervention called “It’s My Life: Social Self-Directed Care” to help people build a network of friends and intimate relationships, which is particularly helpful if they are isolated or misunderstood by the people around them.
Also Check: What Should I Do For Depression
Teen Depression And Parental Involvement
When your young adult child struggles with depression, how much and in what ways you help will vary according to the individual. Since everyone has different needs, notes Kimberly Christensen, PsyD, a pediatric psychologist at Sartell Pediatrics in Sartell, Minnesota. People are so worried these days about being a helicopter parent, but in my experience, its totally appropriate to have regular contact with your child, Christensen says.
Regularly call or text or check in on certain days or times. Ask how things are going, how theyre eating, are they exercising, what theyre doing on weekends. Those questions can help parents who are pretty in tune with their kids tell if something is going on. Communication really shouldnt be any different for kids that have depression. Make sure you treat your adult child like an adult.
Transition your communication to acknowledge the adult to adult relationship, says Christensen. Relate to them on more of an adult level and balance advice and words of encouragement versus support versus independence.
Resist the urge to overprotect children and bail them out of every problem. Let them go and take responsibility for themselves. Release them and let them launch, says Steve Lownes, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Behavioral Healthcare Agency, County of Orange, California.
Encourage your child to make small changes, one step at a time, Christensen says.