Parents gathered last week at a Bayfield High School Conversation Cafe to learn how to spot signs of depression in their teenage kids – and how to reach out with success.
In Colorado and around the nation, about 22% of teenage boys and about 40% of girls experience depression symptoms in high school, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In this month’s Conversation Cafe, mental health professionals and parents gathered to find new ways to connect when teenagers experience those symptoms.
“The whole idea behind starting these (cafes) was trying to give parents tools to talk to their kids before their kids are in crisis for whatever reason,” said Jennifer Leithauser, a counselor at Bayfield High School. “We are looking for any way we can to move our efforts upstream, so we are catching kids before they are in crisis.”
It can be difficult to spot symptoms of depression. To adolescents, depression might feel heavy, numb, hopeless or overwhelmed, Leithauser said. Externally, their depression might sound like a bad attitude or negative self-talk, or they might withdraw from their friends.
Other symptoms can include fatigue, insomnia, decreased appetite, agitation and poor school performance, according to the Mayo Clinic.
For parents, such behaviors are signals that it’s time to jump in and help their children, Leithauser said.
During the discussion, counselors walked parents through a list of common signs of depression and then offered strategies for starting conversations with their students.
“With that list, it’s really easy to say, ‘Hey, I’ve noticed that you have been really withdrawn from your friends. ... It’s got me worried. Can you tell me what’s going on?” Leithauser said.
One helpful strategy is to say, “I’ve noticed this, can we talk tomorrow?” Arranging a time to talk with children, rather than surprising them with a serious conversation, could make checking in more successful.
“Sometimes, as a parent, I try to bulldoze through the problem and fix it, but that’s not really how depression is able to be dealt with,” said Christine Wright, a parent in the district.
Conversation Cafes for Bayfield High School parents started during the 2017-18 school year because the counselors were seeing so many kids in mental health crises, Leithauser said.
The meetings cover a variety of topics and include a presentation and Q&A. The next cafe, Jan. 22, will focus on substance abuse and vaping and will be open to the entire school district. A late-spring cafe meeting will focus on social media and its impact on youth mental health. Interested parents can find more information through the high school.
“So far, they’ve been really well-received by the parents that have attended,” Leithauser said. Attendance, however, is generally low. Leithauser said the counseling team plans to schedule the meetings at different times of the day to encourage participation.
The Conversation Cafe topics come from parent suggestions and common issues that counselors observe. They connect parents to the school-lives of their kids, which can at times seem unreachable.
“Getting my kid to talk about what happens every day, that is still a mystery,” she said. “I’m just trying to gather as much information as I can and put the pieces together.”
For Wright, who has attended almost all of the meetings this year, the program provides a direct link to school counselors, the efforts they promote and district news. It’s a way to know what’s going on.
“For a lot of parents, we have busy schedules,” she said. “But I have found that I’ve taken something away in the positive every time that I have gone.”