Mental health matters. And in a time where 1 in 5 adults experience some form of mental illness, it’s more important than ever to talk about. As we start to destigmatize mental health struggles and become more open about seeking help, it’s important to remember that adults aren’t the only ones impacted.
“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and they are widespread,” said US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a public statement. “Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression and thoughts of suicide – and rates have increased over the past decade.”
So what do you do if you’re a parent grappling with mental health issues in your family?
Raya Fratkina, Director of Engineering, is a mom to three children ages 20, 18, 15 years, all of whom have struggled with their mental health, albeit in different ways.
Her eldest, a boy, was dealing with depression throughout middle and high school and it took him a while to admit he needed help. “He didn’t talk to anyone, he didn’t share that he was struggling for a long time,” Fratkina says. Once he opened up, she was able to get him help. Today he’s in college and is doing great, but he still has bad days or weeks, she says. “It’s not a linear thing.”
Her middle daughter had a hard time when the pandemic hit during her junior year of high school.
However, Fratkina’s youngest daughter struggled as young as sixth grade. When she switched schools that year, Fratkina could tell that she was having a harder time. Then, during the later half of the year, Fratkina sought out ADHD testing to verify her hunch. It took six months for the report to come back, she says, which isn’t out of the ordinary for mental health systems.
It turns out that her daughter also had anxiety, which Fratkina didn’t realize until the report. They created a plan, but by November of the following year, that crashed and burned, she says. Her daughter’s depression deepened and she had a hard time getting out of bed, much less going to school.
“As a parent, you take a moment, then get up and try something else,” Fratkina says. “It was a long journey of figuring out what was wrong and finding our way through.”
Eventually, her daughter found therapists and medication that worked for her and she started high school part-time this year. Along the way they realized that her daughter was autistic as well. It’s not uncommon for girls to get diagnosed with both ADHD and autism when they reach middle school, Fratkina says. Her daughter is still far from well and Fratkina has to continue to advocate for her daughter and her diagnosis.
The thing about mental health is it’s so unpredictable,” Fratkina says. “There are good days and bad, good hours and bad. Things can change quickly.” This is where Elastic’s “Home, Dinner” Source Code tenet was so impactful, Fratkina says. “I was able to be there for my daughter.”
Mental health issues are complicated and multi-faceted and there is no easy answer, she says. And parents can have a huge impact on their kids’ recovery. “I am my kids first therapist and at times most effective therapist,” Fratkina says. “I provide support and a feedback mechanism but we are working together, it’s not punitive.”
For Fratkina to get the support she needs as a parent, she used Ginger’s online counseling and still attends their workshops.
“As a parent with a kid that’s struggling, you go through a lot of soul searching,” she says.
And that can be hard to manage on your own.
Fratkina offers more advice for parents helping their children through mental health struggles:
- Find support groups and a community. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) in the US has a lot of resources and all states have local chapters. Fratkina has a local program that takes a holistic approach with troubled teenagers but works with families, too.
- Put your oxygen mask on first. At the end of the day if you can’t deal with what is going on in you and your kids’ life, you’re only going to make it worse.
- Letting go and letting go in a positive way. As parents, we all have expectations. Sometimes dealing with our own expectations first is the key. Don’t worry about the homework assignment or the test. Focus on what’s most important—your child’s well-being in the long term.
- The teenage years start somewhere around 11, so be prepared! My best recommendation is to read Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall?
- Our society puts ridiculous amounts of pressure on kids and the rates of anxiety and depression are through the roof. My kids were all happy, active, well adjusted, social creatures... until puberty hit. I wish I had learned about managing anxiety earlier. I recommended reading/listening to Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents and Flusterclux podcast.
- You are doing an amazing job. Don't listen to anyone who tells you how to parent unless what they are saying resonates with you. We are all different and you can only be the parent you can be, not some other version that somebody thinks is the "right" one.
But mostly: “It’s really important to talk,” Fratkina says.
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