How to Talk to Your Child About Depression
Parents and families overwhelmed by the global coronavirus pandemic often think they are helpless when it comes to helping a child struggling with depression. The reality is there are a few ways to help end the stigma around discussing mental illness.
Earlier this year and prior to COVID-19 becoming a part of our daily vocabulary in 2020, I became certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a national program to teach the skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance abuse.
In 2017, my son had a major depressive episode and committed suicide two months after graduating from college. I found the courage to write a book called “This is Depression” (www.thisisdepressionthebook.com) to warn families about the dangers of mental disorders. I also started a 501c.3 non-profit called the Avery Burton Foundation (ABF) to provide outreach, education and resources.
The process of writing the book and starting the foundation were both therapeutic and helped me better communicate with my other two sons, one that was in college and the other just starting high school.
However, I still felt that I needed tools to help me better talk with my kids, and other families as well. That’s where MHFA and becoming a mental health first aider comes in.
As a first aider, we are not trained to diagnose. We stay in our lane as mental health advocates. Instead, we focus on assisting someone in a crisis and connect individuals with professional resources. Kind of like a Life Guard administering CPR until the paramedics arrive.
So, how does that help us talk with our children about depression? It starts with having an Action Plan known as ALGEE.
A: Assess for risk of self-harm to them selves or another person. Be direct. Ask them if they have thought about suicide.
L: Listen. The goal is to have a conversation with your child, but the key is to listen non-judgmentally. Don’t try and diagnose or make them feel like mental health is a sign of weakness.
G: Give assurance that things are going to be okay. Be supportive and positive. Don’t use phrases like “get over it” or that what they are feeling is somehow a “phase” and no big deal.
E: Encourage them to seek help or offer to connect them with resources like a therapist or school psychologist.
E: Encourage self-care. Suggest they go for a walk or get outdoors for some fresh air as part of a daily routine.
Using the ALGEE action plan is not meant to be linear. So don’t worry about using any of the steps recommended in a certain order. The goal is to talk with your child about what they are feeling. Using the action plan can help make the conversation less awkward.
MHFA has become a valuable tool in my outreach efforts at ABF. I weave the action plan seamlessly in my conversations and avoid trying to provide any diagnosis. I stay in my lane. My ultimate goal is to connect the person in crisis with resources.
This approach works so well for me that earlier this summer I became certified in MHFA for Adults, dealing with more complex issues such as trauma and substance abuse.
Due to COVID-19, many people are struggling: 1 in 5 adults is experiencing a form of mental health disorder.
If you or someone you know is showing signs of being in a mental health crisis, visit our website for a list of resources at www.averyburtonfoundation.org. You can also follow us on social media to start a conversation on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Reggie Burton is an author, speaker, entrepreneur and Founder/President of the Avery Burton Foundation, a non-profit 501c.3 organization focused on mental and depression outreach. He is also the author of “This is Depression” available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. @reggieburton