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A Letter to Parents with a Depressed Teenage Girl

Dear Moms and Dads,

We’re here for you. We understand. We know you may feel a great weight on your shoulders that you might believe you alone must bear. But we want you to understand something: you are not alone.

We’re here to support you and help you through this experience. Yes, your daughter’s mental health is the most important thing in your world right now. We get that. This letter, though, is for you and about you.

Because you’re an essential part of your daughter’s healing process.

She needs you and you can be there for her. Please understand that you’re equipped to handle this. Even if you know nothing about depression or mental illness, what you have the most of, and what you know the most about, is what she needs from you the most: your unconditional love, your capacity for understanding, and your compassion.

We don’t know you personally, of course. We don’t know your daughter. And we don’t know the specific details of her situation or yours. What we do know – because we work with teenage girls with depression every day and meet with and talk to their parents every day – is that what you’re going through right now is not easy.

But let’s get back to you.

You may feel sad, lost, confused, or angry. You may have a knot in your chest or the pit of your stomach that won’t go away. Some of you may stay up all night worrying about your daughter. You may wish you could go back to before – whatever before was like for you and your family.

We read a quote once about parenting that reads:

“Having children is like having your heart walking around outside your body.”

When your daughter struggles with depression, it’s like being heartbroken and watching your aching heart walking around outside your body.

But we have two important things to tell you. Or remind you, rather:

Your daughter is not broken – and heartache heals.

Make that three things:

Hearts heal with love.

But it takes more than love to manage clinical teen depression: it takes evidence-based treatment and support.

About What You Feel

We know you love your daughter and will do anything you can to ease her pain and suffering. However, you may feel some things that you think you shouldn’t. It’s a conundrum. You feel them, you feel guilty about feeling them, then you beat yourself up about it. You get over it, then it comes back, and you repeat the internal process. We know because it happens to almost everyone with a loved one with mental health issues.

Remember – now we’re talking about things you feel that you feel bad about feeling. Here’s what we mean:

Anger

You might be angry at your daughter for being depressed.

That’s right. It’s not just you who feels that way. You might be angry at the situation, you might be angry at her, you might be angry at your spouse, you might be angry at yourself. Please understand that it’s okay to be angry. There is nothing wrong with feeling angry in this situation. If that’s the way you feel, then identify that feeling. Name it. Accept it without judging it. It will pass. If you get stuck on it, find a way to work through it without expressing that anger toward your daughter. Talk to a close friend. Find a therapist for yourself and arrange a session. Find a parent group for parents of teens with depression. Above all, though, please don’t be angry at yourself for being angry. Any emotion you have is okay to have: we’ll keep repeating that until you believe us.

Frustration

You might be frustrated with your daughter because she can’t just look on the bright side and be happy and stop being depressed.

We promise. You’re not the only one who feels this way. For a person who does not have a depressive disorder – or any mental health disorder – it’s difficult to understand why people who do can’t get over it and move on so they can focus on the positive and count their blessings instead of dwelling on the negative and wallowing in self-pity. If you’ve had those thoughts, we understand. It’s okay to have those thoughts. But we know that you know that it’s never okay to say those things to someone with depression, whether they’re your daughter or not – because the fact they have depression means those things are exactly what they’re not equipped to do by themselves right now. So, what should you do with those thoughts and feelings? Identify them. Own them. Let them pass through your mind and body without judgment. If an internal process does not help you work through those emotions, talk to a friend, a counselor, or attend a support group. Sometimes simply saying those things out loud to another person – things you may feel you aren’t allowed to feel ­– does the trick all by itself.

Blame

You might blame yourself, your spouse, or your daughter for her depressive disorder.

Many parents blame themselves when their kids develop mental health issues. You may blame yourself because of genetics: depression runs in your family, so you think it’s your fault. You may blame your spouse or your daughter’s other biological parent.  Depression runs in their family, so you may think it’s their fault. Let’s make this clear: any genetic predisposition anyone has to any mental health disorder is no one’s fault. Not yours or your mom’s. Not your spouse’s or other biological parents’ or relatives’ fault.

No one can blame anyone for the DNA they were born with. It’s the result of countless generations of evolution, for which no one person is responsible.

Also, you may blame yourself for something you said or did when your daughter was younger. Or you may blame your spouse or the other biological parent for things they said or did when your daughter was younger. That’s tempting, because it makes sense out of an issue that’s hard to understand. Let’s make this clear as well: what’s in the past is in the past. You can’t change it. Your spouse or the other parent can’t change it. Your daughter can’t change it. What you can do, however, is start where you are, and move forward with the understanding that you can all work together to help your daughter and everyone involved heal and grow. Analyzing the past in order to identify preexisting risk factors is valuable if it helps your daughter heal. Looking backward in order to find someone or something to blame will not help anyone. It won’t help you, it won’t help your spouse/her other parent, and it won’t help your daughter.

About How Your Daughter Feels and Behaves

When your teenage daughter has a depressive disorder, the symptoms may appear in surprising ways. In adults, the most common symptoms of depression are persistent low mood, constant feelings of hopelessness and/or worthlessness, a loss of interest in favorite activities, decreases in work performance, and withdrawal from family or friends.

In your daughter, however, depression may appear as:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Escalating risky behavior, i.e. alcohol or drug use, sexual behavior, excess shopping/spending, or uncharacteristic rule breaking
  • Extreme mood swings

One of the most difficult things to work through is the feeling that you’re somehow responsible for this behavior. We mention that above: you cannot blame yourself for the symptoms of your daughter’s depression. Which means you cannot blame yourself for the behavior caused by those symptoms.

Another extremely difficult thing to work through is learning not to take her depression personally. You should not assume that what she’s going through at any given moment is something that you triggered with a word, a glance, or an offhand gesture. In addition, you cannot assume that you could somehow have helped her avoid the pain and suffering she experiences related to her depression.

It’s true: you can help her by finding evidence-based treatment and supporting her as she goes through the treatment process.

But depression does not go away overnight. As she heals and grows, she will still have depressive episodes which you do not cause. Depressive episodes and difficult emotions are characteristic symptoms of depression. You cannot assume responsibility for those episodes or emotions any more than you can assume responsibility for the symptoms of a chronic medical condition. Which is to say you cannot assume responsibility at all.

You will make mistakes and say the wrong thing.

We all do that.

But if you lead with love, forgiveness follows.

How to Help Yourself

We get that when you have a depressed teenage girl in the home, or you admit your daughter to an inpatient treatment program for adolescent depression, your primary focus will be on her. But there are things you can do to help yourself stay healthy and balanced, which will, in turn, help her on her recovery journey.

We know it’s tough to prioritize your self-care when your heart is literally walking around outside your body and is in all kinds of emotional pain. We wish we could wave a magic wand and make her suffering and your suffering disappear. But we can’t do that. There are some simple things you can do that work almost like magic, though.

You can:

  1. Reach out to friends and talk through the hard things. Sometimes just saying things out loud is enough to start the process.
  2. Seek professional support when your emotions feel unmanageable, overwhelming, and you’re at a loss as to how to deal with them.
  3. Take up a mindfulness practice such as yoga or meditation.
  4. Find a support group for parents of teens with depression. They’re out there. As are millions of parents who’ve lived through something similar to what you’re living through now.
  5. Continue to pursue your own hobbies and interests. You may put your life on hold temporarily, in the beginning, in order to find treatment for your daughter and get all the details sorted out. But once that’s done, we suggest re-engaging in gardening, painting, hiking, running, music, or socializing.

It’s important to do these things for yourself and understand you’re not neglecting your daughter when you do them. On the contrary: by being your best self, you’re better able to support her on her healing journey – and you’re also setting a concrete example of what self-care looks like.

Resources for You

If your daughter receives treatment for depression, it’s likely the treatment center she attends or the therapist she sees knows of local support groups for parents just like you. You can also visit the family support page sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the support page sponsored by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the website maintained by Parenting Depression: Survival Skills for Parents of Depressed Teens, the support page maintained by the National Federation of Families, the support page maintained by Mental Health America, and the official parenting website maintained by the American Academy of Pediatrics called healthychildren.org.

In closing this letter to you, Mom and Dad, we want to reiterate something we think is crucial. Yes – finding professional evidence-based treatment can help your daughter learn to manage the symptoms of her depressive disorder. That’s something we think is absolutely necessary for your daughter to heal and grow and create the life she wants to lead. But before, during, and after treatment, there’s something foundational you can do, which we mention at the beginning of the article.

As parents ourselves – and some of us are parents of teens with depression – what we encourage you to do is this:

Double-down on the love, compassion, kindness, and understanding.

Whether your daughter is in once-a-week treatment for mild or moderate depression, or she’s in an immersive, intensive residential or inpatient treatment program for severe teen depression, she will take comfort and find support in knowing – and feeling in her heart and bones – that you’re there for her and love her unconditionally.

With love, hope, and optimism,

Evolve Treatment Centers

p.s. you got this

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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