Depression: This much I know…
Yesterday morning, I was interviewed on RTE’s Radio One morning show about my son Conor who suffered depression and an addiction to computer gaming during his teenage years.
Before agreeing to do the interview I made it clear to the producer, Susan O’Loghlin that I regarded any addiction – including this one – as the repercussion of clinical depression, stress and anxiety. I said this was the point I most wanted to make. I thought this might dissuade them because I have encountered a view that it makes for a better story if you talk about evil computer games and their toxic influence on our young.
But they wanted to go ahead with what I had outlined.
The host @Davefanning was calm and asked insightful questions. I got the chance to make some serious points about how tough life can be for some of our teenagers and – much more importantly – I could deliver some practical tips about how to navigate these waters.
One woman in Ireland told me via Twitter that she was right in the middle of a similar situation and felt truly awful. She listened to the show and felt she now had hope that in the end her son might be OK.
Susan O’Loghlin called the following day and wanted to ask if some of the mothers could email me. I agreed that they could.
So for anyone else in this situation here’s a few guidelines that worked for me.
- Don’t take this personally. It is easy to feel that you are being a bad mother. Try very hard not to do this. You will need to have a rational outlook to deal with a situation which could last several years or more.
- Make sure that you are healthy and strong. That bit of airline advice about fitting your oxygen mask before you help others is very relevant here.
- Give your child as much unconditional love as you can – even when you feel that they have exhausted your patience and goodwill.
- Introduce structure into the family environment. Enforce family meals at the dining table when everyone can get together.
- Make sure your child’s school is aware of the situation and will support you.
- If the school isn’t sufficiently diligent about notifying you about absences and does not take you issues seriously, change schools.
- Praise every tiny victory because that will allow you and your child to build self-belief and confidence which is at the heart of this matter.
- Work really hard at keeping the lines of communication open whatever happens.
Specifically, invest in your own health and well-being. Good nutrition, exercise in the open air and meditation all have their role to play. I recently attended the Science of Happiness Conference run by the www.chinmayamission.com It was incredibly helpful and put on several session teaching very young children on how to meditate.
Which brings me to my most important point.
It is clearly better to prevent than to treat. Many of our children have much to be thankful for. Better nutrition, better healthcare, the chance to go for higher education and more material advantages. But sometimes they are short changed when it comes to the most important gifts; time to sit and listen to exactly how they feel about a life that can seem an endless pattern of measuring and competitiveness that never leads to any emotional contentment.
A month ago I heard a nine-year-old boy on Radio Four’s Today programme talking about his fear and anxiety and how, on some days, he would try and work out how he could die. Nine years old.
I sometimes hear adults say that they do not understand how a child could be depressed, as though somehow this dreadful condition can only start over the age of 18. It is especially child who can suffer so badly because they have not yet developed the cognitive powers to talk themselves and others through their troubles.
Start building confidence in your child in the very early years. Give them your time and respect but most of all listen very carefully to what they say. Because they have the answers – you just have to hear them.
Even if you are divorced, try hard to co-parent well. Sometimes this is not possible but make every effort. Conor’s father has been a great source of support and inspiration to our children even though were divorced several years ago. Bury resentment with a positive outlook.
I wasn’t always good at all of the above but on the day of the RTE radio show, I went home and stoked up the BBQ feeling I had developed a little understanding and managed to get some useful advice out on the airwaves.
Conor was arriving back from University later that afternoon. He’s just finished his Masters papers in International Economics. He’s off to Germany this Autumn to study for his European Masters. Not so bad for a boy with only four GCSEs! I am thankful that he, his brother and his sister are – for the most part – happy, well-adjusted people.
I’m grateful and with that comes strength and understanding.
This much I know.