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  • Feb19Fri

    Everybody Hurts

    Recognizing the difference between teen angst and depression. February 19, 2016 by Major Kathie Chiu
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    I knew something was wrong. After our move from Vancouver to London, Ont., we were all sad to leave family behind. Our youngest, Evan, has struggled with anxiety, but had been doing well. His counsellor thought he could handle the move using the coping mechanisms he had learned. We anticipated it would take time.

    But this was different. This was more than sadness. It was irritability, increased distractedness, agitation, panic, meltdowns, headaches and frequent illness. We were at a loss to deal with it and sought professional help. All of our children were affected by moving, but none quite so badly as this.

    Every child responds to change and stress differently. Our oldest daughters, twins, adjusted easily. Our oldest son was more affected, but always bounced back. During those early moves, though, our family remained together. The two youngest have not coped well with being separated from their older siblings.

    It's impossible to know how your children will react to life's stresses, but as a parent you always wonder what you could—or should—have done differently, asking, “What if?”

    But moving a lot isn't the only kind of stress in a child's life. Any major life event can have a deep impact or even bring them to a dark place—divorce, illness in the family, the death of a parent or sibling, failure in school, bullying, confusion over sexuality. Repeated or sustained stress can lead to a chemical imbalance in the brain, resulting in depression. We also know it's hereditary—some families seem to be more prone to depression.

    As parents, our lives are busy and sometimes we're dealing with our own stress. But what we think is run-of-the-mill teen angst and moodiness might be signs of a deeper problem. How do we know when something darker is developing? Here are some things to watch for:

    • Appearing sad, irritable or tearful

    • Changes in appetite or weight

    • Decreased interest in activities they once enjoyed

    • Decreased energy level

    • Difficulty concentrating

    • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness

    • Major changes in sleep habits

    • Frequent complaints about being bored

    • Withdrawing from friends or after-school activities

    • Drop in school performance

    • Talk of suicide


    Most teenagers exhibit some of these things as part of their normal development. However, when it happens more often and doesn't improve, or you see several of these signs all at once, it's time to take it seriously. It's better to be accused of being an over-protective parent than experiencing the worst that can happen.

    We've kept the lines of communication open and pray for strength and courage. I'm thankful that Evan is such a self-aware young man. Counselling and support from his siblings, youth leader and corps officer helped him cope. He's also creative and loves to express himself through words and music. Here's what he wrote about the heartbreak of moving away from family, and then the overwhelming relief at finding out we were moving back to British Columbia:

    What can I say?
    I have everything a man needs
    Yet I still don't feel complete
    I spend hours feeling so depressed
    As I think to myself, why is my mind so messed?

    Trying to find an answer to my question
    But the only thing that comes to mind is depression
    Feeling so upset with all this aggression
    So I decided it's time for some confession
    Got my mom to call my counsellor and she booked me a session

    After the first meeting I still felt empty inside
    For months I was a mess all I did was cry
    Wishing this was all over why couldn't I just die?
    I tried to feel like there was purpose there,
    Feeling like life is so unfair
    But how could it be, I have people who care for me
    And that's all that should matter, don't you agree?

    Trying to find something to make me smile
    But that's hard when the people I love live 3,000 miles
    It's been a year; I heard I'm moving back
    Everything around me goes black
    As a tear streams down my cheek
    I don't think I could even speak

    Depression can affect anyone, even children and teens. But it is also treatable. If you are concerned about your child's health, see your family doctor. They may refer you to counselling and community support programs. Self-care is also important—eating well, exercising, spending time with others and making time for fun activities. As the church, we can help by paying attention, reaching out and praying for the youth in our community.

    Major Kathie Chiu is the corps officer at Richmond Community Church, B.C.

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