I am proud to introduce a new column to Madame Deals! I think we all need a touch point a place we can go to be inspired. Karla is my children’s teacher, a good friend, and a person with a heart of gold. I hope that her words will inspire you to do more. We are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with. It is important to listen with your heart and proceed with your eyes open. Enjoy!
This past week the University of Virginia put forth a campaign to increase awareness of depression and the affects it has on mental health. The campaign was a display of 1,100 empty backpacks spread across the famed historical lawn that spans in front of the Rotunda. “Send Silence Packing” a program developed by the nonprofit group Active Minds was brought to UVA to highlight the fact that every year 1,100 college students commit suicide. Each backpack had a message attached to it to help illustrate the idea that students who feel or become depressed should not be afraid to ask for help. I wonder just how many of those 1,100 young people who took their own lives last year would still be here if just one person reached out to them and let them know that depression is nothing to be ashamed of. We will never know the answer.
The reality is that life today is difficult for everyone; especially young people who see their future as bleak and unreachable. Let’s face it, times are tough. Money is tight for everyone and as a parent of a young adult in college I know firsthand how overwhelming it all can be. When our children are young they know that they can depend on us for anything and everything they need. As they travel throughout life they strive for independence, all the while knowing that mom and dad really have their backs; they are not totally independent. As they go off to college, they quickly realize that if their laundry is going to be done they are the ones who have to do it. No matter what the need is they quickly understand that they are the one in charge of everything; a fact that can overwhelm anyone.
In an article published by Mlive.com in September, 2010 data shows that “an estimated 3.4 million Americans — two-thirds of the U.S. high school Class of 2010 — entered an institution of higher education that year. But an estimated one out of three will not return to that institution for sophomore year, according to a 2010 report by ACT, the college-admission testing company based in Iowa. Some will transfer to another institution. Some will drop out.”
Dropping out or transferring to another school can and is done for various reasons; some of which are due to the mental stress that college life has on these young people. But how can we as parents insure that our children have the best possible college experience? In my opinion the way we can help is through open communication. Long before our children are ready to enter the ever demanding world of higher education we must instill in them that no matter the situation we are always willing to listen and most of all help with whatever the situation is. Understanding that we cannot always (or should not always) fix the problem, we can always listen and advise. But we must listen and be aware of what is going on. Keeping the lines of communication open is important with our children, especially as they grow and begin to explore the world; however, I am not saying that we must micro-manage their lives.
Pay attention to their voice, their words and their actions. Asking key questions periodically can help you as a parent determine if there is something going wrong or if there is concern for potential dangers. Answers to these questions can often bring light to a potential issue in our children’s lives; the key is not to over-do it. Throwing out questions such as “What did you do this weekend?” or “How’s the food?” or “What are you doing for fun?” (be careful on how you react to that one) or simply “How are you feeling?” can provide you with enough information to determine if your child is well or in need of encouragement or something more. Noticing changes in behaviors, sleeping and eating habits can often indicate a problem. Taking into account that college students eat and sleep differently than they did when they lived at home, if your child tells you that they slept the entire weekend or hasn’t eaten in two days or is always tired, they may have a problem.
Depression is a mental illness. That does not mean that someone who suffers from depression is crazy; it simply means that they need help. Sometimes help can come in the form of medication and other times therapy with a counselor or psychologist is what is needed to help get ourselves back on track mentally. No matter what the solution is, it is important that we stress to our children (and others) is that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. When we get physically sick we do not think twice about going to the doctor for medication. So why is it that when we get ill mentally we feel ashamed? It is because somewhere someone instilled that idea into our own way of thinking. It is up to us as parents to reassure our children that seeking help is okay.
If someone you love (or yourself) shows signs of depression or anxiety, encourage them to ask for help. Working toward both physical and mental health is important and should never be deemed shameful. Who knows, maybe next year there will be less than 1,100 backpacks on the lawn.
Also, please visit Karla’s Lifetime Moms page and read her articles.