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    An Open Letter to Parents
    at the Shared Dreams Website

    To Parents Concerned About Depression in Their Children and Teens

    Dear Parent,

    My daughter was outgoing, outspoken, and fun to be with until she was 13. Then she became hostile and angry, but I put it down to "teen stuff." We got involved with family counseling. At 14, with no threats or warnings, she took an overdose of her migraine medication in a suicide attempt. Everyone we knew was appalled. She was the last kid they had expected to do such a thing.

    When my daughter was very ill (and she was VERY ill), I became physically sick also. For about eight months I had colds, flus and bronchitis--non-stop. I couldn't quite get over one bout before I started coming down with something else. My husband said that when he walked it felt like someone had grabbed his belt and was pulling the other direction. It was a hard time for all of us.

    Now at 18, my daughter is doing very well, is off medication, working full time, and she's fun again (most of the time). I'm fun again (most of the time). She works out-of-doors, which seems to be good for her, physically and mentally.

    I'm relieved, but the worry doesn't really go away. I've learned enough about depression to know it could happen again, though I hope it doesn't. I'm banking on the fact that she's knows enough now to get into treatment if she needs it. I don't mean to imply she is completely out of the woods; she still struggles with low frustration tolerance and "teen stuff," but I'm very grateful for her hardwon progress.

    I have two other extended family members who experience severe depression, both of whom found medications that worked by trial and error. I've learned that a pill that helps one person may be useless to someone else. We never found the right combination in the 10 months my daughter was severely depressed. Nonetheless, I would move heaven and earth to get her on medication if she became severely depressed and suicidal again. Suicide is the leading killer of adolescents and the second leading killer of college-age young adults. I feel very blessed (but not complacent) that we escaped those statistics.

    I've also learned to ask the hard questions, especially "Are you feeling suicidal?" I know, we worry that it will "put thoughts in their heads." But, no, kids don't kill themselves because someone asked. They will nearly always be honest, and are often relieved that it's out in the open.

    I wanted to share our experience and some resources that might be helpful to other families. The encouragement I can offer is that there is help out there. The trick is finding the right counselor, the right doctor, and the right meds. Sometimes that isn't easy, but it's well worth the effort!

    When my daughter was hospitalized on an adolescent psychiatric ward, I braced myself for doctors who would assume that homeschooling was pathological. That didn't happen. As adoptive parents of a child who had suffered early abuse, we were treated more as part of the team, and less as "the problem." I've known other parents (including adoptive parents) who weren't so lucky when dealing with mental health professionals.

    Interestingly, my daughter decided to attend school for the first time while she was recovering from depression because it helped give her more structure and she was too withdrawn to learn independently. (She went to school for two years and then homeschooled for her senior year.) On the other hand, some kids, by turning to homeschooling, have been able to escape from intolerable stresses at school.

    Ironically (but not coincidentally), I wound up getting a job at my local Mental Health Association, working with parents under stress. I wish I'd understood how much help that group could be when my family was undergoing our daughter's depression.

    If you are reading this page, there's a good chance you are concerned about a child, maybe your child. I want to encourage you to pay attention to those gut-level concerns. One of the best ways to become informed is to volunteer at your local Mental Health Association --a great homeschool project.

    As you get to know the folks there you will absorb a better understanding of mental health (and mental illness), and get to know some of the most commited, hard-working people in the world, some of whom have overcome tremendous barriers. And that's just the staff!

    You'll also learn about support groups, books, videos, conferences, and other ways to get connected with the information and people your family may need.

    My husband once said that sometimes the people that are hardest to love are the ones that need it the most. My daughter was never hard to love. However, there were times--when she was irrational and brimming with hostility--that I needed to step back and get my priorities in line.

    If she'd had cancer, I'd know that anger and self-absortion would be natural at times. I'd give her some slack and try to help her deal with those feelings. I had to learn to do the same thing with depression. It's a physical disorder, affected by stress, the same way that a heart condition or diabetes can be affected by stress.

    I wish you well at finding solutions for your family. And where no solution is at hand, I wish you the strength that comes from love.

    All best wishes, Judith Allee

    Where to Go from Here