Kelsey Neale was a middle school student in Deerfield when she fell into depression.
“I felt horrible about myself and everything,” says Neale, now a freshman at the University of Iowa. “My parents didn’t know it was depression. I fought with my mom a lot, but she assumed it was puberty.”
Neale says she wishes her mom would have recognized her symptoms as depression, but in the same breath, acknowledges that “it’s hard to say that because I was good at hiding it.”
“My mom, bless her heart, she didn’t know. She would ask, `You’re okay, right?’ She was already putting out the notion that I had to be okay, so I would just say, `Yes.’”
At age 13, after months of struggling with pain, Neale attempted suicide. Untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide in teens, Neale says, so today, in addition to majoring in psychology, she speaks and writes about her experience in an effort to raise awareness about what depression looks like in teens.
According to Neale, there are three mistakes parents can’t afford to make with a teen who might be depressed:
1. Assume things are fine. Ask open-ended questions and be willing to hear the truth. Say, “I’m concerned about you. I’m always here for you. Are you okay?”
2. Blame changes in your teen on hormones or teen angst. Losing interest in activities, avoiding friends, losing or gaining weight and hypersensitivity are all possible signs of depression. No one knows your teen better than you and no one will notice changes like you will. Be alert and be involved.
3. Decide your teen can get by without professional help. When in doubt, have your teen checked by a qualified mental health professional. “They’ll be more open in letting their feelings out to a professional in a confidential setting. Better safe than sorry,” Neale says. Call your pediatrician and get a referral right away.
Concerned about a teen in your life? Erika’s Lighthouse of Winnetka, founded in 2004, has a mission to “shed light on adolescent depression” through understanding, early identification, education and most of all, stigma busting.
For more articles and information about teen depression, go to Make It Better’s Guide to Teen Depression.