Archive of ‘Depression’ category

Suicide Prevention: Conversations to Have with Your Teen

Conversations with our teenagers are vital in keeping them healthy and safe. CDC has reported an increase of adolescents who have had a suicidal attempt since 2020, the beginning of the pandemic (CDC, 2021). As a previous school counselor who did a lot of crisis counseling and worked with students who had suicidal thoughts, I want to encourage adults, parents, and educators to have these important conversations with your teens.

Ask the teen how they feel.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but this is the most important thing we can do for our adolescents. Instead of asking about how their day went or about if they finished their homework, ask them how they feel today. You can ask questions like this: “How do you feel about what happened today?” or “How are you feeling today?” or “What are some emotions you feel regarding ____?” Middle and high school students would always tell me that they wish more adults would ask them how they feel instead of only asking them about tasks they need to get done.

Don’t be afraid to ask the teen if they are suicidal.

Many people believe that if they bring up the word “suicide” it is going to suddenly make the teen curious about it. Nope! It’s a myth. Research has proven that bringing up the word will NOT increase the level of suicidal thoughts in a teenager (NAMI, 2020). If a teen is thinking about it, their thoughts about it won’t increase just because someone asks about it. Parents, educators, and adults, please do not be afraid to ask your teen if they are suicidal. Many adolescents just need to be asked this question – so many adults in their life are afraid to ask, so the teen may not have a space to open up about their suicidal thoughts.

If your teen happens to say yes, ask if they have a plan. If they say they have a plan, consider seeking treatment and support, and do not leave them alone. If there are any items that they can use to hurt themselves, remove those items from their reach. During this process, encourage open communication and don’t be judgmental. Immediately reach out to a therapist and/or treatment center and ask for support. For an additional layer of protection, reach out to their school counselor and inform them of this too, so that they can keep an eye out at school. Since adolescents spend most of their time at school, it is important to have an adult at school who is aware of their suicidal thoughts and/or plan. The more eyes we have on our teen, the more we can protect them from doing anything rash.

Ask the teen about any protective factors.

The more hobbies and people the teen cares about, the more likely they are willing to stay alive. Ask about the adolescents’ hobbies, social circles, and values. See if there are any factors that may light up their interests or passions. If they talk about a hobby they enjoy, ask about it often and ask about their thoughts and emotions regarding it. As a therapist, I always start off my conversations with my clients about their protective factors. It helps me to better understand what they enjoy and what keeps them interested in living life. 

Protective factors to ask about:

  1. Hobbies: What do they like to do in their free time? What clubs/sports/extracurriculars are they involved in?
  2. Social circles: Who do they spend time with? Who do they trust? Who would they turn to if they were going through a hard time?
  3. Physical health: Are they eating well? Are they drinking enough water? Are they spending an adequate amount of time exercising?
  4. Purpose/Values: What do they believe in? What do they value? What are some topics that get them stirred up? Do they believe they have a purpose in life?
  5. Self-esteem: What do they think about themselves? Do they believe they have the strength to overcome challenges?

If you have a teen who is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a therapist immediately. You can find a therapist with immediate openings at Austin Family Counseling by emailing [email protected].

Additionally, there are resources available that can offer immediate support: 

  • Call 988 (suicide hotline number)
  • Call 512-472-HELP (Integral Care Mobile Crisis Team) 
  • Chat with a crisis counselor: https://988lifeline.org/chat/ 

Citations:

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2020/5-Common-Myths-About-Suicide-Debunked

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7024e1.htm?s_cid=mm7024e1_w


Picture Books as Therapy

Understanding complex emotions and life events is difficult for anyone, but especially for children. When they don’t have the proper tools to express their inner turmoil and process their surroundings, this can often lead to frustrating interactions with parents and caregivers. One tool to give your child is seeing big emotions and hard situations played out in a book.

Books are a great way to help children understand their feelings, learn about differences, and begin to understand the world around them. This can start as early as toddlerhood with picture books! An extra bonus to picture books is the visual representation of emotions, interactions, and experiences. These can be jumping off points for all kinds of conversations with your little ones. Not only that, but it removes your little one from having to be the one with the heavy feelings or thoughts. Instead, by focusing on the stories of the character, you can discuss these feelings and thoughts without your child feeling put on the spot.

With that in mind, here are eight suggestions for picture books that can help engage your little one in some of life’s biggest questions:

Big Bear Was Not the Same

By Joanna Rowland

(Beaming Books, 2021)

Joanna Rowland is a fantastic author whose books tackle real-life issues. Big Bear was Not the Same discusses posttraumatic stress disorder and the effects that trauma can have on individuals who experience it and those close to them. In addition to Big Bear was Not the Same, her other books focus on tough topics such as grief, friendship when times are tough, and hope.

Ruby Finds a Worry

By Tom Percival

(2018, Bloomsbury)

Tom Percival is another picture book author that takes big feelings and makes them relatable to children. In Ruby Finds a Worry, Ruby experiences anxiety and thinks she is the only child with this issue. Eventually she realizes everyone gets Worries and the best way to deal with them is not to ignore them, but talk about them. Not only will the story interest your little readers, but the art depictions of the Worry are fun and engaging. Tom has many other books focusing on social emotional learning in his Big Bright Feelings series, including Perfectly Norman, Ravi’s Roar, and Meesha Makes Friends.

My Shadow is Pink

By Scott Stuart

(Larrikin House, 2021)

This was one of my favorite picture books of 2021 (and apparently one of my daughter’s also, since she made it read it 3 times on the drive home from the bookstore alone)! A young boy who loves pink and dresses and “things that aren’t for boys” struggles to be himself when he doesn’t fit in with his family and friends. Stuart’s beautiful illustrations and lyrical prose open the door for inclusivity, diversity, self love, and acceptance. This book gives children the permission to “be themselves, even when it’s uncomfortable.”

The Princess and the Fog

By Anthony Lloyd Jones

(Hachette, 2015)

The princess has everything she ever needs to make her happy until one day a fog settles over her and she can’t seem to feel happy anymore. The Princess and the Fog provides a fun, relatable look at childhood depression. An included guide in the back matter helps parents dig deeper on the topic. With realistic explanations of depression symptoms, Jones does a beautiful job of helping open up a conversation and foster understanding.

Don’t Hug Doug

By Carrie Finison

(Penguin Random House, 2021)

Bodily autonomy and consent are tricky topics to discuss with kids, but important nonetheless. Don’t Hug Doug approaches bodily autonomy in a way kids can relate to– with the concept of hugs. Doug doesn’t like hugs, but his friends and family often insist on hugging him! This book encourages children to ask before touching someone and to voice their own desires about how they are touched. Instead of a hug, why not a high five?

It Will Be Okay

By Lisa Katzenberger

(Sourcebooks Explore, 2021)

Katzenberger creates a kid friendly approach to anxiety through her story about Giraffe and Zebra. When going about his usual routine Giraffe experiences something that makes him so worried and anxious he just wants to hide. Zebra’s empathy and friendship help him overcome his anxiety and get back to enjoying his day. Katzenberger includes excellent educational back matter that can help parents and teachers engage deeper with the topic of anxiety. 

The Struggle Bus

By Julie Koon

(Kind World Publishing, 2022)

Each of us have experienced days where we felt like we were on the “struggle bus”. Nothing is going our way, we can’t seem to make things work out, and we have no idea how we’re going to get things done. In her book, Koon takes this to the next level by presenting children with images of an actual school bus as “the struggle bus”. Her lovely rhyme walks children through times of frustration, hardship, and ultimately perseverance. 

The Breaking News

By Sarah Lynne Reul

(Roaring Brook Press, 2018)

This year especially has seen lots of heartbreaking and stressful things in the news. From war, to pandemic, to school shootings, children may have been exposed to or have seen their caregivers’ reactions to media coverage of difficult situations. Sarah Lynne Reul tackles this in “The Breaking News” and helps show children and adults alike that while they may not be able to do BIG things to combat these issues, even small things can make a big difference. 

Each of these books are excellent ways to not only dig deeper into big topics with your children, but to encourage their love of reading and their imagination. 

For more resources on handling tough topics with kids, or to look into therapeutic interventions for yourself, your child, or family email [email protected].


The Giftcurse of Grief

Fall is often associated with grief. Celtic tradition has built rituals around the recognition that the veil is thinner this time of year. There is a cultural multiple-discovery of rituals during this specific season, one chosen to honor the dead and ancestors’ past, as well as to pay homage to grief itself. The Aztecs had a ritual that pre-dated and inspired Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, and the holiday continues to include Catholic influence around All Saints Day. Celts had Samhain, the Romans, Feralia; South Koreans celebrate in September during Paju. The Hungry Ghost Festival occurs a bit earlier in China, in August. 

This varied, yet overlapping ritual space that both honors and mourns is generally aligned during a time of the season where leaves die, fall, and reintegrate back into the earth’s biosphere. This fall, of 2021, grief seems particularly potent, with many of us either deeply exhaling, or holding our breath, after a long 20 months of pandemic living of varying scales. Many have experienced losses of magnitude and cadence that are out of the ordinary for this last eon. Grief has been experienced in both direct and indirect ways, as shared worry, depression, anxiety, insomnia, even studied as collective shifts in dreamlife.

It is this time of year where clients cite dreams that feel vibrant and potent, some report wanting to sleep more (daylight savings weirdness does not help this, does it?) And seasonally, grief seems more at the surface than in other months. Grief is often described by those experiencing it as a fog, a film, a visible haze that separates or delineates. CS Lewis defined grief as “a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me” after the death of his wife. Somatically, grief can show up in the head, gut, and chest. Grief can physically feel heavy. This is even noted in our idiomatic expressions of the blues, depression, sadness, loss. I feel down, it reduced me to tears, I have a lump in my throat, I am holding my breath. Unprocessed grief can compound and show up as a malaise, a depression, at times it can mirror PTSD symptomology. The DSM 5-TR has created a new diagnostic path for prolonged grief (Prolonged Grief Disorder) to give credence to the impacts an elongated, or multiple-event grief process, has on the brain and body, including sleep disturbance, substance use, and immune functioning. This addition is timely, and necessary, to witness the incredibly demanding time in which we are living.

James Hollis has described grief, or one of the giftcurses of it, as a “mythological disorientation.” At times when we encounter a loss, an earthquake in our senses of selves, the narratives we have built or lived under without question can be aptly rocked by grief and its preceding events. A false self, born under the desires of the family of origin, untapped unconscious material, or just the waves of societal norming might now be proven as outmoded based on what the more concrete situation of grief has unveiled. Therein lies the opportunity. Rather than attach yourself to the other common idiomatic mechanism we humans tend to pursue with grief: get over it; this invitation is instead to sit in it, move through it, let yourself be rocked, create some room for the ferns that grow from the char.

Here are some meditations and considerations on how you might sit with, experience, honor, express, or otherwise cool down from grief:

Stay With It

I adore Tara Brach and have gotten the chance to experience her silent meditation retreats. I often use one of my favorite tools of hers, RAIN, with clients and with myself- here is a 20-minute meditation that features this tool.

Breathe With and Through It

Try alternating nostril breathing (hold left nostril closed, inhale through the right; clamp right nostril and exhale through the left; switch/repeat) which can calm the mind and reduce stress.

Or box breathing which activates the parasympathetic nervous system – exhale for 4 seconds, pause at the bottom for 4 seconds holding your lungs empty, inhaling for 4 seconds, pause at the top, holding the air in your lungs before repeating the pattern.

Create a Ritual Space

Take a page from the aforementioned ritual book and create a space for offering. This could be a section of a table, a shelf, truly anywhere you’d like to place objects, visual reminders, remnants, and notes to a person, a pet, a part of self, a season in your life that has passed.

Open Your Chest

When we are cold we tend to turn inward, when we are grief-stricken we do the same. Doing chest- and heart-opening stretches and poses can help regulate breathing and offer a somatic pull of energy into a space we may be unconsciously holding or tightening.

Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

If you work with me you know I am obsessed with this wild gut-to-brain neural circuit. Here’s a video from the @the.holistic.psychologist demonstrating just one vagal stimulation pressure point.

Cool Off From It

Distraction can be a defense, but it can also be a great tool when grief turns to overwhelm. Get grounded and go for a walk, listen to a favorite album, draw, paint, dance the feeling out of your body.


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