Talking with your teen: Depression and self-injury
Posted by mandyf on August 25, 2012
Talking to your teen about anything can be a challenge, but when you enter something so intimately deep as a discussion on depression and self-injury the challenges are compounded. Self-injury (SI) itself is a symptom of a deeper issue, not the issue itself which can be confusing for many people. That doesn’t mean SI isn’t a problem, what it means is it has deeper companions which drive it such as depression, anxiety, stress, or any number of issues. As such, your teen may not be very receptive to opening up and talking to you honestly about what it is that is causing the friction and discord in their life simply because you ask them to.
There are certain things you have to understand that may be keeping your teen from discussing their problems with you. Trust is paramount, as well as the fear of being misunderstood, getting a poor reaction, and the fear of the unknown. You may have a good parent parent/child relationship, but the fact is if your teen is not discussing these issues with you then there is a reason for that in their mind, real or perceived. A teen that self-injures may feel that telling you will open a Pandora’s Box of sorts which leads down roads they don’t want to face which include, punishment, therapy, medication, even institutionalization. They may feel embarrassed to admit they are having a problem, or that their problem is going to be something you find shame in. Recall how you viewed things as a teenager and realize that your teen is likely just as confused and scared about certain things as you may have been.
In the case of talking to a teen that is not involved in SI about this issue, be clear as to why you are talking about it. Let them know that you do understand the pressure they feel and that you take their concerns seriously. Be positive to let them know that is anything is ever bothering them so much that they feel like SI is an option to coping with their problems it is okay to come to talk to you, or to let you know they need someone to talk to and you will get them to someone that can help. Make sure they know you won’t think less of them, be angry, or force them to do anything without talking to them first and listening to what they have to say.
Regardless of whether your teen is, is suspected of, or isn’t involved in SI behavior, communication is always the key. Don’t beat around the bush about it, or build it up to being a dramatic “face-off” type of event. Be casual in your body language and approach, but serious in your
verbal tone. Make the discussion as comfortable and non-confrontational as possible. Let them know there are always options aside from SI and that you are willing to help them understand and utilize them. If you cannot help them with it, be sure you have access to someone that can. Always let your teen know that you are concerned because you love and care about them, not because you are looking for fault in them or trying to invade their privacy.
Talking to your teen about self-injury is never easy, and it is rarely a one time discussion. It is something you should casually remind them about it at least in a peripheral sense so they know you are there for them in case such a situation arises. Before going in to the discussion be aware of the facts about SI, be more than willing to truly listen rather than lecture, and be mentally prepared for anything they might say. You both may be uncomfortable talking about it initially, but a few minutes of discomfort is far better than years or perhaps a lifetime of pain.
If you or someone you know is involved in or considering SI behavior as a coping mechanism, please seek professional help or call 1-800-DONTCUT where you can get immediate help and local referrals to professionals trained to lend a hand.