October is National Depression Awareness Month as well as LGBTQ History Month. Both are extraordinary causes that deserve attention, awareness, and celebration. For my family and me, they are intertwined and deeply personal.
When our son came out to us in February 2017, he was 16 years old. While my husband and I were blindsided, we quickly snapped out of our shock and jumped into learning as much as we could and supporting him in every way possible. We learned that he had known since he was 13 that he felt “different.” We learned that the anxiety that we thought at the time was sports-related was really him trying to mask his true identity. We learned that our son, the oldest of four, the high-achiever and ever the rule follower and pleaser, was absolutely brilliant at living two lives.
Between February and October 2017, unbeknownst to us at the time, the stakes raised in this duality causing his anxiety to skyrocket and depression to deepen. Following a major jaw surgery and significant weight loss, we realized the therapy he was receiving was barely scratching the surface. While maintaining good grades at school, he began to spiral: self-harming, smoking pot, drinking, and vaping to ease the pain and intensity of his inner struggle. He was disappearing before our eyes, tortured and filled with self-loathing. Terrified and wrought with worry, we naively thought we could love and support him enough to rescue him from his desperate hell. We quickly realized, however, that we needed professional guidance.
Surviving a suicide attempt, we took him to an intensive residential therapeutic program in California two days later.
Why am I sharing our story?
Because I know our story is not unique. Because I know my family is not the only one who struggles with depression and anxiety. Because I’m tired of everyone putting up a facade. Because it’s time to have authentic conversations about depression and support one another. And, it’s why I’ve started Chrysalis Mama, an online platform for support, discussion, and resources.
Depression is real. It’s not made up or a sign of weakness. It is, among other things, a chemical imbalance in the brain. And while mental illness research and recognition was long in the shadows of physical illness, that is not the case anymore. Around 16 million Americans struggle with depression. More than just an occasional bout of the blues, signs of depression can be any of the following according to PsychCentral:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed…
- Decreased energy, fatigue, or feeling “slowed down”
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
- Thoughts of death or suicide or actual suicide attempts
- Restlessness or irritability
I doubt it is a coincidence that LGBTQ History Month and Depression Awareness Month coincide. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, LGBTQ individuals are three times more likely to struggle with mental health issues, and more alarmingly, LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to experience suicidal ideation, attempt suicide, and engage in self-harm. These are staggering numbers, ones that my family knows to be true.
The official site for LGBTQ History Month provides a fascinating education. It makes my heart sing to learn about and celebrate all of those brave souls who came out long before my son who have fought so hard for recognition and equality.
Tips and Resources
- Get Help. If you suspect or know for a fact that your child or a loved one is struggling with depression, help is available! It’s OK to ask! Please do not be embarrassed or worry what others may think. The health and well being of your child trumps all social nonsense. Anxiety and Depression Association of America as well as the National Alliance on Mental Illness are terrific online resources filled with helpful tips, hotlines, and a ton of research studies. Haven Youth and Family Services is a local resource that I truly cannot say enough good things about. They understand mental illness, and they understand how our children and teenagers are growing up today and what it is like to be a parent today. They also have a terrific understanding of the LGBTQ community and are an invaluable resource, with both group and one-on-one support options.
- Remember that we all struggle. Be gentle with yourself and with others. My sister-in-law recently sent me a T-shirt that says “We all Struggle. Choose Kindness.” These shirts support the foundation her friend started that promotes random acts of kindness in honor of her brother, whom she lost to suicide. It is a reminder never to underestimate the power of a smile or kind word.
- Be grateful. Not too long after our son left for California, a friend introduced me to The Secret. It is basically the study of the Law of Attraction: Ask, Believe, and Receive. You may be skeptical, as I was at first, but I am here to tell you it works. Every day he was away, I focused on what I was grateful for that day and visualized him coming home healthy and fulfilled — essentially being grateful for what I wanted for the future. Gratitude is a great practice to center yourself, interrupt anxiety, and focus on what is important. Celebrate the little things to keep positive!
- Don’t give up. When your child or loved one is struggling with depression it is easy to get overwhelmed and filled with fear. The answers often aren’t obvious. It is natural to feel exasperated and to want to give up. Don’t. When a roadblock is thrown your way, pivot. I promise the solution is out there and there are people who are eager to help! In addition to the resources I’ve already mentioned, an Educational Consultant can really help you figure out the best options for your child.
Embracing vulnerability and gratitude, our son has returned healthy, has transitioned well into his senior year, and is filled with self-acceptance and self-love. We are fully aware that our outcome is uncommon; and it is our hope that this article encourages any in need to reach for help. It is there.
Drop-in and Support Group for Teens
Haven Youth and Family Services invites LGBTQ youth and Allies ages 13-18 to a weekly drop-in and support group on Thursdays from 7-8 p.m. The informal gathering provides a safe, inclusive, and affirming space to foster relationships, build self-confidence, and explore thoughts or questions regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. Please contact Kate Versage at [email protected] with questions or call 847-251-6630 to speak to any staff member.
Heather Hester is a professional writer who creates captivating content and newsletters for her clients. She is passionate about having authentic conversations about mental health, and supporting and advocating for all LGBTQ+. She lives with her hilarious husband, four incredible children, and one high-strung dog. Join the conversation at chrysalismama.com or follow her on Twitter @chrysalismama1.