Subject: 15 year old daughter
Question: My daughter is 15. I have an 18 year old son and a 6 year old daughter as well.
History: Divorced when son and daughter were 4 and 14 months old. Married again when son and daughter were 5 and 3. Married for 13 years (had 6 year old daughter when son and daughter were 11 & 9) with second husband.
Recently separated from 2nd husband with definite plans for divorce. Kids never bonded with step-dad.
Real dad became less frequent in their lives when they entered junior high. My 15 year old daughter has always been clinically depressed (and has been diagnosed as such) is on 60 mg Prozac each day which only serves to keep her from being physically violent, does not seem to relieve the dark hole she lives in. She won’t go to school, won’t eat the food I cook, lives on junk food, talks about how ugly she is ALL THE TIME (even though many friends and family have told her she is beautiful…and she is).
She is now angry because she has no cell phone, computer or being with friends privileges because we are only 1 month into school (9th grade) and she has all F’s, has snuck out of the house from 10pm-1am one night with a boy who calls my house and hangs up on me all the time, has posted a bulletin on the Internet saying she is so Hor___ and want someone to _ _ _ _ her (you fill in the blanks) and put my home phone number on that one!
All I can do is thank God she didn’t post an address as well. I have taken her to at least 5 different counselors over the last 4 years, had her psychologically evaluated, met with school boards, read up, and all I can get is that she is clinically depressed.
Living with her is a nightmare and I am at my wits end. I worry for our (the rest of the family) safety as well as hers, but to be honest, I’ve found myself feeling that I wish she would just leave and I wouldn’t have to deal with any of it anymore.
I’m so mentally and physically exhausted with all this. I want to scream and cry and I feel I’m going to be the one that is pushed over the edge in the end. Is there nowhere these kids can get help that is actually affordable? I have good insurance, but I’ve used most my sick and vacation time for her. She does not know how I agonize over her. All she sees is that “I don’t understand and don’t listen” which is not true. I feel I’ve done a lot more of those things than a lot of parents would care to do. In fact, I think she knows she gets to me emotionally and likes it. I simply apply reward/consequence system in my household, she makes poor choices and loses all… then blames me for her “hellish existence”
Answer: Dear Shelley:
I am so sorry. I can hear your heartbreaking in your posting. I know how hard it is to deal with a child who is depressed. I went through it with one of my own children. Finding services is not only a challenge it seems insurmountable when you are so concerned about your almost adult child.
I do have a few suggestions for you although you will not be able to “fix” this situation. Some of what needs to be fixed will need to come from your daughter and that is what makes parenting so hard, learning what you can do and what they will have to do for themselves.
Is it possible to explore options of hospitalization? Sometimes when children are flunking school, not eating and not responding to much a doctor or counselor can recommend temporary hospitalization where 24/7 staff are available. It is expensive and while most insurances cover the cost they may only cover partial or a limited amount of days.
What most parents do not know is depending upon their income sometimes medicaid will cover what is remaining because it is so expensive that the expense exceeds your income capacity. You could check into it. While it is heartbreaking to have a child hospitalized it does provide them with the opportunity to receive a structured environment, a safe place to vent and open up to both professionals and others. It may or may not be a possibility in your area. It depends upon what is available and what the criteria for placement are in your area.
Something else. You mention taking away from her. Often when parents are struggling with a child who is challenged emotionally it is easy to become negatively engaged with this same child. Taking privileges away from a child suffering from depression is usually not going to get you a good response. They already feel hopeless, overwhelmed and deprived in their world. (Doesn’t matter if this is their reality what matters to them is how they feel.)
Find ways to find things you like about her and make a list and let her know on a daily basis. Then look for things to praise her for what is she doing right. Next, set up time to spend one on one with her alone. Then, listen, listen, listen and listen some more. Often as parents we want to “fix” whatever is bothering our children. She needs you to listen more than she needs your wisdom right now. She needs you to understand the world she is living in right now. However, this does not mean you let down your standards at home. She may not become physically violent (if she does it is time for the hospital) or verbally abusive (if she does you remove yourself and others from her presence). In other words make your reaction proportionally to the action.
Also, remember that grounding a teenager is probably more of a burden on you than on them, especially a depressed teenager.
Don’t let her push your buttons. If her goal is to make you mad then do not respond! At all!
What are you doing to help her get her grades back up? Have you had a EIP meeting with the school? They need to be invested in finding out why her grades have dropped and how to get her back up to speed. Just because she is older now does not alleviate the schools responsibility for working with her. If she suffers from depression she is qualified under the IDEA federal regs which tell schools they have to provide resources for children with physical or mental health needs. Most parents do not know that mental health issue qualify as well. You will not receive a welcome committee at the school however, it is what they get paid to do and the school’s federal funding requires them to provide services. They have to pay supportive services to get her where she needs to be.
Everyone shows more resistance to helping teenagers because at some point your daughter will have to realize she has to want the help and she has to do her part. It maybe however that right now she needs to see the resources gathering around her to assist her.
The research is not good for children of divorce. Children of divorce have a higher rate of depression when they are not involved with both parents. It is what it is. Sometimes a significant other parent (in this case male figure) in a child’s life can minimize the impact however statistically children experience depression when they are cut off from the other parent for whatever reason.
For yourself, show some compassion to yourself and to your daughter. No parent gets married thinking they hope one day to be divorced and raising children alone. No parent has a baby and thinks one day I need to know how to deal with a teenager who is depressed and hates herself and life in general. Get yourself plenty of support. There are support groups for parents (both in person and online) of children who suffer from depression, NAMI National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, or do a google search and find online support groups. (Trust yourself not all professionals are created equal, trust your own instincts.)
I can tell you love her. I can tell you are concerned about her. The feeling of not wanting to be around her is not just about her. It is about you feeling overwhelmed, powerless and heartbroken watching her make her choices. It is what being a parent is all about and we get burned out as well. (Remember professionals who work with people who suffer from depression get paid better, take vacations and have better benefits, they don’t care for their patients 24/7 like a parent does).
Take care of yourself, remember to find time to be with you, nurture yourself and be compassionate with yourself first. You cannot share with your children what you do not have for yourself. If either of your divorces were do to substance abuse or if you have a family history of substance abuse (alcohol, prescription drugs or others) then give yourself a lifetime rest by joining alanon. You will be surprised at how many other people have been where you are now and can provide insight, support and ideas for whatever you face.
Your daughter may not realize for many years how fortunate she was to have a mom who care, stayed and reached out for help. She is fortunate to have you as her mom.
M Kay Keller