I find Erin’s story interesting because I think it is easy to look at a teenager, especially one who’s not exhibiting the signs we saw on the TV news story about teenagers and drugs/depression, and assume “it’s just a phase”. It might not be:
“I clung to the idea that mental illness came for other people, and I could not be one of them because I was fine. I was just worried that everyone I loved was dying of incurable cancer, and that I must’ve left the stove on, and, also, I was a failure who would never amount to anything, and that maybe I was an alien because I was still suffering from tidal mood swings at 25 years old even though everyone promised me they would vanish with puberty.”
I think we, as a society, get a certain impression when comes to anxiety and depression, especially with teens, and we don’t always do a great job of noticing when it doesn’t look like that.
In Erin’s case, her moodiness, and anxiety was easy enough to explain away as a phase because she still managed to be involved at school, and get good grades. There wasn’t a massive drop in her performance or social activities. Nothing that would send up red flags at school, or home, but at the same time, she was clearly dealing with something that she didn’t just grow out of.
It reminds me of my own teen years, when I was being abused, and showing any number of red flags, but, again, there was no self-harm, no drop in grades, no drug or alcohol use, nothing that the adults around me would immediately pay attention to. But there were “quirks”. My need to dress in jeans and black layers no matter the weather, (Try that in scorching NYC summers!) my need to spend as much time as possible alone, hidden away from others, my absolutely perfectionism in all things, etc. Again, these were explained away as quirks and phases. Something I would grow out of, nothing to be concerned about.
It wasn’t until I was almost 30, and my parents knew about the abuse, and my mental health issues during my 20s that my mom was watching a show where they talked about all the signs a child may be dealing with sexual abuse, when she realized what she had missed.
And though we never talked about it, the fact that I am male probably entered into the equation too, boys didn’t get sexually abused, that was something you had to watch out for with girls.
It’s those kind of stereotypes that cause us to miss people who really need help. Yes, being a teen is sometimes about going through things, learning how to be an adult, and going through phases as you do so. Sometimes, though, those phases don’t go away, because they aren’t a phase. Talk to someone about them, and parents, talk to your kids about them as well.
Open communication and support is part of the cure for all of this, and heck, even if it turns out to “just be a phase”, what’s the harm in having more open communication?
Maybe they’ll grow up with the skills that lead to better relationships because they know how to have open communication. That’d be terrible, wouldn’t it? 😉