Where is She? :: Our Journey with Childhood Mental Health Diagnoses

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The call 

I was pulling into my driveway one afternoon, and a number that I didn’t recognized called. I ignored it because I was trying to get the youngest inside for his nap. The phone rang again. Then my school where I worked called. “Your daughter’s school is looking for you,” was what I heard on the other end. I immediately thought she had done something wrong or had a meltdown. I really wasn’t in the mood for this. I reluctantly dialed the unknown number back, and it was my daughter’s school counselor. She started off by saying, “Everything is fine, but . . .” Then she proceeded to tell me that my daughter told her she was planning on committing suicide and described in detail her plan. 
 
I sat in my car in my driveway with my mouth literally wide open. I was shocked. My mind immediately went to, Well, she’s one of four kids, I bet she wants attention. Or maybe she was trying to get out of something in class. Apparently my thought came out into actual words. The counselor said, “No, this is real and I am worried. Let me help you navigate this.” Praise the Lord for her too! 
 
What followed has been eye-opening and enlightening, to say the least. My then-eight-year-old daughter was beat down and severely depressed. She genuinely did not want to exist anymore if she had to live with the desperation she was feeling. Her suffering with anxiety for years and the frustration and inability to harness her emotions was too much for her. I had no idea where to begin or even what to say. As a mother and a natural “fixer,” I just wanted to do just that. Fix it. I figured if I gave her enough hugs and reassured her how wonderful she was, things would go back to “normal.” I could not have been more wrong. 

Childhood mental health struggles and child suicideHow do I get her back?

Before I was a part of this world of childhood mental health, I naively thought that I would never miss the signs. I first-off thought that this would be an issue I might possibly have to deal with when my kids were teenagers, but definitely not when they were as young as eight. Approximately 1.9 million children between the ages of 3-17 have diagnosed depression. Approximately 4.4 million children have diagnosed anxiety. No one ever gives birth to a baby and thinks that they will one day have a child in these statistics. I always thought that if/when my child was depressed, I would immediately know. That the signs of depression would hit me right in the face. I thought they would be obvious. I could not have been more wrong. 

My daughter, since she was three, has always had a harder time with simple emotions. At one point we had her tested for autism. We just didn’t know what was happening. After many test and therapies we realized she had anxiety, ADHD, and dyslexia. Because of these diagnoses, I thought we had a hold on her mental health status. Again, I was wrong. She was silently suffering inside. Her feelings weren’t her own. She couldn’t find any joy in life. Every time she felt a spark of joy, it quickly faded. My heart broke for her. I just wanted her to feel better. Where was that infectious smile? Why couldn’t I find it anymore?

The journey 

As I sit here typing, two years later, I do see the other side. We have been blessed with a wonderful team of counselors, psychologist, psychiatrist, and friends. They have guided us each and every step of the way. Without this group of people, I am 100% certain that my daughter would have taken her own life by now. 

She will never be un-depressed. She will always struggle with this disease. But now she can see past it. Her smile is bright again. Her life has returned. We continue on with weekly counseling sessions and daily medications. But the joy she once exuded is back.

The subject of childhood depression and thoughts of suicide are scary. No one wants to talk about them. If you are like me, you might assume that when a child mentions “killing themselves” you see it as a ploy to get attention. You aren’t wrong, but the attention they are seeking is real. They need us to take them seriously and to dig down to the heart of those words. Sometimes it could be an immature moment of thoughtless words, but other times it can mean that child is suffering inside and they just need someone’s hand to grasp onto from their world in drowning waters. 

If you notice any of the signs of depression (linked here) or feel like you are in need of help for your child, the resources are there. We are blessed to live in a city equipped with amazing professionals right in our own back yard. Reach out to their school counselors, their teachers, your pediatrician. These are all wonderful places to start! Know, Mom, that you are not alone. Allow yourself grace. You did nothing wrong, and neither did your child. It is not too late to help them get their shine back! 

Resources 

Below are some resources that will help a parent walk the path of depression with their child, including tools to determine if the child is depressed or hosting feelings of sadness.

Signs of depression in children (by age group)

Understood.org

American Academy of Pediatrics

Children’s of Alabama 

If you have concerns about your child’s mental health, please talk to a professional.

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Kristen is an Alabama native, sort of. As the daughter of a military man, she was born in England and spent the first 5 years of her life there, but Alabama has always been her "true" home. She was raised from then on in Wetumpka, Alabama, which is famous for the movie "Big Fish" and most recently the town was chosen to have a remodel by Ben and Erin Napier, who are stars of the HGTV show "Hometown". Kristen graduated in 2004 from Auburn University where she met her husband Jeff; they've been married 15 years. They have four children together, ages 12, 10, 10, and 3 and reside in Homewood. Kristen has had a versatile career which extends from owning a local fabric/sewing shop in Homewood, AL to recently working as a Team Lead for the popular babysitting app.