5 Signs Your Teenager is Asking for Help

The teenage years can perhaps be best described as a time of physical, emotional and social tumult. Changes happen so rapidly in adolescence, that neither child nor parent really knows how to cope.

Teenagers often become more detached from their family during this time. In fact, parents become less important in their teenager’s eyes, as their life outside the family develops.

While this is a normal and healthy part of development, it is not an easy place for parents to be. They must be able to let go of their children while still recognizing the warning signs of adolescent depression. This can be difficult because some moodiness is normal during the teenage years.

Here are 5 signs that your teen may be suffering from atypical depression and asking for help.

1. Mood Swings

As I just mentioned, thanks to the cocktail of hormones suddenly surging through a teenager’s body, it is quite normal for them to have mood swings. So how can you tell what’s normal and what is a sign of mental illness? You have to trust your parental instincts here. You know your child better than anyone and should be able to recognize any significant shift in mood. Particularly look for mood shifts that seem to have no root cause.

2. A Change in Behavior

It is normal for a teenager to have a certain kind of behavioral change. Normal changes include challenging authority a bit more and claiming their independence. What’s not normal is for your child to suddenly start presenting as a different person to you. This can be a sign of depression.

3. Substance Abuse

Most teens experiment a bit with drugs and alcohol. But you should see red flags if your teenager is chronically abusing substances and coming home drunk or high on a fairly regular basis. It is especially important to act immediately if your family has a history of substance abuse.

4. Self-Harm

Those teens who are experiencing significant emotional turmoil may choose to take their emotions out on themselves by cutting, hitting or hurting themselves in some other manner.

5. Talk of Suicide

While teenagers can definitely be prone to drama and overreacting to events, no parent should ever ignore talk of suicide. With teen suicide rates on the rise, particularly among girls, any mention or attempt should immediately result in professional help.

If you or someone you know has a teenager who is showing one or more of these signs and would like to explore treatment options, please be in touch. I would be happy to discuss how I might be able to help.

How To Help Your Child Who Is Being Bullied

Watching your child endure bullying and harassment from their peers is a difficult and painful experience for most parents. We want our children to be happy and healthy, and when they hurt, we hurt.

Whether they’re at school or just looking at Snapchat on their phones, it can be virtually impossible to try and intervene or attempt to stop bullying behavior. Although you can take steps to protect your children as much as possible by contacting other parents or appropriate school staff, you can’t always be at your child’s side to protect them. One thing you can do, however, is empower them to handle difficult situations when you’re not around.

Listen

It’s important to let your child talk, and not just to hear them talk, but to listen, pay attention, and ask questions. Make sure to set aside a quiet time for you and your child to calmly talk about the events of the day. Put out their favorite healthy snack and find out how their day went. Be silent at times to quietly encourage your child to be more forthcoming. Be patient, as your child may be ashamed, afraid, or embarrassed to talk to you about their experience being bullied.

Talk

Ask open-ended questions to encourage your child to talk about their day. “What happened on the bus ride home today?” or “What did you do at recess?”

Support

Make sure your child knows that it’s not her fault she’s being bullied. Let her know that she doesn’t deserve what’s happened, that she deserves respect, and that she’s not alone. Your child should know that you always there for her. She should also know that she has the support of her teachers and principal, and that bullying is not tolerated at school.

Empower

Empower your child by teaching them to look at the color of their friend’s eyes. Looking at their bully in the eye in this same manner will help them look up so they can appear and feel more confident.

 

Bullying is an issue that doesn’t just affect children, it also affects adults. Throughout their lives your child will experience difficult people and situations. By learning at a young age how to best handle conflict, they will have a confidence and skill set that will benefit them for life.

If you or your child require additional help coping with bullying or harassment, you should seek out professional assistance from a licensed, trained clinician. Call my office today so we can set up an appointment to talk.

Why You Should Limit Phone Time For Your Teen

When your child was small, they most likely couldn’t go to bed at night unless they had their favorite blanky or stuffed animal. Well, just because they’re “all grown up” doesn’t mean they still don’t have dependencies. Teens today can’t seem to go to bed, or anywhere else for that matter, without their beloved smartphone by their side.

When I was a teenager, my friends and I would go out bowling or to get a pizza. We’d actually make eye contact with one another and, you know, talk. But pay attention to the gaggles of teens in malls and other public spaces and they all have their heads down, eyes glued to their phones! It would seem cellphones are the modern security blanket and no teen wants to be without theirs.

In this way, you could almost classify this dependency on technology as an outright addiction. A strong word for sure, but perhaps one that fits perfectly in this case.

The University of Maryland conducted a study as part of The World Unplugged project where researchers evaluated students from 10 different countries to see what would happen when the students had to forgo their phones for 24 hours. Their results were eye opening. They found that the majority of students experienced distressed during this 24-hour period.

Another large-scale study involving more than 2,500 college students found that 60% of them admitted to being addicted to their phone.

But this addiction can sometimes lead to unhealthy mental behaviors. For instance, researchers at the Catholic University of Daegu in South Korea found that teens who used their smartphones the most showed troubling psychological issues such as aggression, depression, anxiety and tended to withdrawal more.

While more research is needed, and while not everyone in the mental health community categorizes cellphone addiction as a real disorder, yet, it is clear that teens are having trouble curbing their own technological desires.

Signs Your Teen May be Addicted to Their Phone

How do you prevent your own kid from experiencing the aggression, depression and anxiety associated with overuse of a smartphone? First, you must recognize signs that there may be a problem:

– They feel the need to respond to everything immediately. They seem unable to resist that urge.
– They constantly check their phone, even when it isn’t ringing or vibrating. This behavior actually has a name and is called ‘phantom vibration’. This is a definite sign that your teen may have an addiction.
– They are disconnected from the real world and ignore what is happening right in front of them.
– They feel anxious and even angry when they are away from their phone.

What You Can Do?

First, try speaking with your teen about their phone use. They may or may not be receptive to the talk, but it’s a good idea to make the effort before you suddenly throw down new cellphone rules and regulations.

Next, set some rules. Understand this will be hard for your teen to accept, so go a bit easy. You may want to start by saying cellphones are not allowed at the dinner table. Of course, you as a parent must follow your own rules.

Next, you might want to enforce a “no bedtime” rule. Studies have found electronic equipment like laptops and cellphones hinder sleep. Try and encourage your teen to leave their phone in their bag and try some quiet time before bed by reading or listening to music.

Above all, encourage your teen to start regulating their own behaviors. That’s what growing up is all about. Ask for their input before setting rules but be firm about enforcing them.

If you find you have trouble speaking with your teen, you may want to seek the guidance of a trained therapist who can facilitate communication and offer tools for managing any upsets moving forward.

If you would like to explore family treatment options, please get in touch with me. I’d be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

How to Deal with Infidelity in a Relationship

When infidelity occurs in a relationship, it can be very devastating for the parties involved. Infidelity involves breaking a promise to be completely faithful to your partner, and when it happens, it erases the trust that existed in the relationship. Dealing with infidelity can be pretty challenging and it raises tough questions. Should you stay? Should you forgive? Can trust be rebuilt? Will things ever be the same? If you’ve just found out that your partner has been unfaithful and you’re not sure of what to do, this article is for you.

It’s important to note that infidelity can occur in any relationship. We often think it’s never going to happen in our relationship, but existing statistics show that infidelity occurs in about a third of relationships.

Why do people cheat?

People cheat for a variety of reasons, and it rarely has anything to do with the person that’s being cheated on. You might think your partner was unfaithful because of something you did or didn’t do, but that’s rarely true. Here are some reasons people cheat:

– To feel desirable
– Impulse/Lack of self-control
– Boredom
– Impaired decision making under the influence of drugs or alcohol
– Sex addiction

Remember that none of these reasons is an excuse, and the cheater made choices.

Can a relationship survive infidelity?

Yes, it’s possible for a relationship to survive infidelity, but it means that both partners have to be willing to work hard at rebuilding the trust that has been broken, healing, and making the relationship strong again.

Here are a few tips:

– Talk about the affair- It’s important for both parties to have an open and honest discussion about the affair. It also helps to talk to a relationship counselor together, and explore ways that you both can heal faster.
– Remember the good times- Cheating is painful, but it helps to reminisce about the good times and all the wonderful things your partner did for you in the past.
– Tackle old issues- Now is a great time to tackle all the underlying issues in your relationship and create a fresh start.
– Practice radical honesty– Try to be completely honest with each other about how you feel and how you want to be loved.
– Set a timetable for recovery- Both of you need to be intentional about your recovery. The cheater needs to allow the betrayed party ample time for healing, and honor the other person’s recovery process.
– Start something new- Remember how excited you both were when you just fell in love? Rekindle that magic by doing an activity you both enjoy together, and incorporating more romance into your relationship.
– Reaffirm your commitment- There needs to be an understanding that infidelity will never occur in the relationship again, and a willingness to keep that promise by both parties.

In rebuilding a relationship damaged by infidelity, patience is key. With the support of each other, family, friends and a good therapist it is possible for a couple to move past an affair and become even stronger. I offer relationship counseling services for couples who find themselves in this difficult situation, and you can contact me to book a session.

5 Ways to Reignite the Spark in Your Relationship

‘The spark’ is a phrase that’s used a lot when it comes to romantic relationships. In fact, you might have felt ‘the spark’ in the beginning of your relationship, and as a result, the early days were very exciting for you and your partner. However, like every other flame, ‘the spark’ needs to be kept alive by both partners. When you think of intimacy, you probably imagine physical attraction, and sexual relations, however, intimacy is so much more than that. It encompasses both the physical and the emotional.

At the beginning of your relationship, you just can’t seem to get enough of your partner. You want to see them all the time, and they are constantly on your mind. Naturally, romance blossoms and intimacy is high and effortless.

However, as time goes on, life sort of gets in the way. Routine and the stress of everyday living makes it almost impossible to sustain high levels of intimacy without effort. It takes practice, time and effort to keep intimacy levels high in any relationship.

Here are 5 ways to strengthen the intimacy in your relationship, and keep your flame burning hot.

1. Do exciting things together- As your relationship develops, you are bound to form a routine. However, routines become boring. Shake things up by making an effort to do really exciting things together, such as climbing a mountain, going on a vacation, taking a special class together or going bungee jumping! It will provide a much-needed breath of fresh air in your relationship and help you discover new things about each other.

2. Have deep meaningful conversations– Talk about your relationship, your current lives, plans for the future and your emotional state. Try as much as possible to be vulnerable with your partner and let them see the real you. Lack of communication and bottling up negative emotions can lead to resentment. Explore the things that make your relationship work, and strengthen your commitment to each other. Having a therapist facilitate these conversations can make them really fruitful and rewarding.

3. Be thoughtful – Intimacy isn’t always about the grand gestures. Something as simple as writing your partner a love letter or stocking up on their favorite snack can make them feel incredibly loved and appreciated.

4. Make couple time- It can be really hard to focus on one thing in today’s digital world, and sometimes we unconsciously pay more attention to our gadgets than to our lovers. At least once a week, turn off all electronic devices and participate in an activity you both enjoy. You could watch a movie, cook together or massage each other. This gives you time to enjoy each other and connect on a deeper level.

5. Express gratitude- Every night, before bed, express gratitude for one thing your partner did during the day, no matter how small or random.This will help them feel loved and appreciated.

If you would like to improve intimacy in your relationship and strengthen the bond between you and your partner, please book a relationship therapy session with me.

5 Ways to Cope with Anxiety as a Parent

The hard work and unpredictability that makes parenting so rewarding can also cause a great deal of anxiety. Here are some simple ways to bring yourself to a place of calm.

Make a To-Do List
Ruminating on worries can cause lots of stress. Clear your mind by making a to-do list. Put down everything that needs to be done into your phone or onto a sheet of paper, and as you write them down, visualize yourself removing this task from your mind onto the list.

Watch Your Language
Many times parents believe things will get better when their children move on to the next phase of their maturity. However, the truth is that the worry will continue until you change your pattern of thought. To do this, watch the language you use to describe things. Don’t use phrases such as, “this will be a disaster if I don’t get it done on time” or “I’ll die of embarrassment if I forget.”

Also change thoughts of “I have to” to “I want to”. For example, instead of saying “I have to sign the kids up for karate” say, “I want to sign the kids up for karate because I know they’ll love it.”

Get Some Fresh Air
There’s nothing like some fresh air and sunlight to ease anxiety. Put your baby in a stroller and go for a walk around the block, to a neighbor’s house, or a local park. Take your kids to an outdoor mall or sit on the patio of a frozen yogurt shop and share a frozen treat. You can also try your local library. Some libraries also have outdoor patio areas where you can read with your kids.

Practice Mindfulness Exercises
If your anxiety is difficult to control, try deep-breathing from your belly. While you do this, concentrate on five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. This can help calm you when you’re feeling a panic or anxiety attack start to arise.

Use Your Support Network
Call your friends or family to chat or ask for advice. It may also help to vent with a Facebook parenting group or other online message board. You can also call your therapist and make an appointment and work through your challenges.

Try these tips to control and cope with your anxiety, and enjoy the time with your children free from worry.

If you find your anxiety to be impacting your ability to be a happy, successful parent, it might be time to speak with a professional who can help. Please contact me today for an initial consultation.

Co-Parenting Strategies for Divorced Parents

Going through a divorce can bring the worst out of a couple that once promised each other forever. Your world might feel like it’s falling apart, and trying to co-parent when you’re struggling to simply keep going can be overwhelming. Learning to co-parent won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible. Use the five strategies below to start co-parenting with your ex.

1. Focus on the Children

By maintaining the focus on what’s best for your children, you can work toward providing as peaceful a home as possible for them. Providing them loving stability and structure will help ease them through this time of transition.

2. Communication is Essential

As you go through your divorce, your communication with your ex will inevitably suffer. It may be difficult to communicate with them; you may not want to talk to, or hear from, your ex. However, it’s important that communication regarding the children is maintained, and that your children are not used as messengers (i.e., “Tell your father you have a recital on Friday.”) Communicate directly with your spouse, finding creative ways to communicate to avoid conflict if necessary (text, email, letters, etc.)

3. Just the Facts

If you’re harboring resentment or have unfinished emotional business with your ex, the desire to express your emotional needs can feel overwhelming. Make a commitment to yourself that for the sake of your children’s well being, you’ll keep conversations focused on the issues.

4. Embrace Change

As you go through your divorce, there will be a great deal of change for yourself, your ex and your children. By expecting and embracing change, you’ll reduce the stress you feel when the unexpected presents itself.

5. Prioritize Your Health

Maintaining your health is important not only for you, but for your children as well. As they learn to cope with the changes in their family, having a healthy, happy, rested parent will help them adjust. Your children depend on you, and you owe it to them to give them your absolute best as a parent. Additionally, taking time to exercise and eat healthy will help you take the focus off of your divorce, and shift the focus back on to you moving forward, and making positive changes in your life.

As we go through a divorce, we mourn the relationship lost, and the dreams we had of the future. Although your ex is no longer your partner, your ex is still your child’s parent, and you will always be co-parents of the children you have together. Learning to get along and communicate will bring comfort to your children as they learn to cope with their parents’ divorce.

If you’re going through a divorce and struggling to co-parent effectively, call me today and let’s set up an appointment to talk.

Coping with a Loved One’s Serious Illness

When a serious illness strikes a family, everyone’s life is thrown into turmoil. Whether the illness is chronic or acute, no one can really prepare you for the responsibility of caregiving and the emotions that go with it.

Unfortunately, as we throw ourselves into overdrive, doing everything we can to deliver the best care to our loved one, we typically put our own self-care on the backburner, which ultimately leads to caregiver burnout.

If you’re feeling worn out, here are some ways you can care for yourself while caring for your loved one:

Give Yourself Space

You’re no doubt overwhelmed and inundated with activities that surround your loved one’s care. It’s important that you take time to get away for some quiet reflection. Take a walk in nature or a long drive to clear your head and catch your breath.

Eat Right

If there were any time in your life you craved comfort foods, now would be it! But loading up on carbs and sugar is not what your body needs. Do your best to forego donuts and pasta and instead opt for fruits and vegetables.

Connect with Others

It’s easy to become isolated during this time. You’re tired and emotional, and besides the goings-on at various doctors’ appointments, you may feel you have little to offer in the way of sterling conversation.

It’s important that you remain socially active and connect with others. This could mean finding a local support group, or grabbing a latte with friends every Thursday morning. You need to remember who you are as a person, not just a caregiver, and social interactions will help you feel human.

Get Help

Many family caregivers feel it’s their entire responsibility to provide care for their loved one. But you don’t have to do everything by yourself. Reach out to other family members and friends for help. Look into getting a home health aid who can step in for you so you can have a couple hours off each week.

You may also want to consider seeking the guidance of a family therapist who can help you navigate your emotions and offer tools to help you cope with your new day-to-day reality.

If you’d like to explore therapy options, please get in touch with me. I’d love to discuss how I might be able to help you and your family during this difficult time.

Why Someone Suffering From Depression Can’t Just ‘Get Over It’

When talking about depression, a lot of people forget that depression is an illness that requires proper attention and treatment. If you’re depressed, it can be incredibly frustrating to hear things like “Just get over it”, “You’re being really dramatic”, “You have to be strong”, “Learn to deal with it”, “Happiness is a choice”. You might start to think of things like ‘Why can’t I just get over it’? We can stop ourselves from doing destructive things like putting our hand in a fire, but when it comes to depression, it’s a bit difficult to just ‘stop’. There are a number of reasons why ‘get over it’ statements like this don’t help. Here are some of the best reasons why.

  1. It’s an illness– Depression is an illness, an illness that you have little control over, just like any other illness. Nobody tells people with broken bones to get over their pain. So why should depressed people be forced to ‘get over’ theirs? Always remember that your pain is valid, and as long as you’re getting help by speaking to a mental health professional, you’re on the path to healing.
  2. The brain is in control– Studies have shown that people experiencing depression have symptoms controlled by an unconscious emotional process that is usually beyond their control. Remember that depression is an incredibly complex disease caused by a combination of biological, psychological and sociological factors.
  3. The symptoms can be debilitating– Depressed people exhibit both physical and emotional symptoms. These symptoms include things like nausea, headaches, restlessness, fatigue and insomnia.
  4. You can’t wish it away– Nobody likes being depressed. Just because you want to feel better doesn’t mean you can wave a wand and get rid of it. You can desire to feel better, but until you work with a therapist, there is no magical route to getting better.
  5. You can’t always pretend– People always act like depressed people should plaster a huge smile on their face and pretend like everything is perfect. You can’t just shove your emotions down and pretend like they don’t exist. The mind keeps replaying them. This is its way of reminding you that you have an ongoing issue that needs to be handled by a professional.
  6. Depression isn’t ‘one size fits all’– People experience depression in different ways and exhibit different symptoms. Just because they can go about their daily activities efficiently doesn’t mean they’re not ill. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Depression changes everything and there’s no universal treatment. A therapist can help you find a treatment perfectly suited to you.

Depression is real and painful. Just because you can’t see or touch it doesn’t make it any less real. If you suffer from depression or know someone who does, working with a therapist is a good start to overcoming your depression. I am available to help. Contact me to book a therapy session.

Why Most People Misunderstand Depression

Of all the words in the English language, depression must be one of the most misunderstood. Why does this term seem to confuse so many people? Why is its real meaning so hard to grasp? It is because the term has two starkly contrasting meanings, depending on who is using it.

Among clinicians, the term depression is used to describe a debilitating syndrome that robs people of their energy, memories, ability to concentrate, love and experience joy. This is not just an emotional state, but a physical one that impacts specific regions of the brain. Depression actually lights up the brain’s pain circuitry, inducing a state of suffering that can become debilitating.

Beyond this, depression is actually neurotoxic, meaning the disorder can eventually lead to the death of neurons in critical memory and reasoning areas of the brain, including the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Simply stated –  depression causes brain damage.

Colloqiual Usage

Confusion abounds when the term ‘depression’ is used by people in everyday conversation, however. In these instances, they usually are referring to something far less serious or clinical. In fact, most people use the term as a synonym for mere sadness or being slightly upset.

For instance, you will often here people make comments such as, “I was so depressed when Starbucks dropped its pumpkin spice latte,” or “Oh my God, I just ripped a whole in my favorite pair of jeans. I am like, so depressed right now.” No, you’re not, you’re bummed, pretty disappointed in fact, but you are certainly not depressed. These kinds of disappointments, while frustrating, are simply a part of life.

But ripped jeans and discontinued menu items have little effect on our ability to function, and the feelings of disappointment and annoyance rarely last for very long. A friendly word from a loved one or a hug is generally all that’s needed to get over the perceived “crisis.”

In contrast, clinical depression often persists for months, and no amount of friendly support from loved ones is enough to make it any less debilitating.

Time for New Language?

And that is where the confusion lies, and why many people simply don’t understand the true ramifications of clinical depression. It is also why those who suffer from depression are met with relative indifference when they open up to friends and family about their condition.

The sad reality is that, because of this profound confusion, many depressed patients are expected to simply “snap out of it” by their friends and family. No one would ever take this attitude with someone suffering from cancer or kidney disease; the admonition is equally offensive and inappropriate in the case of clinical depression.

Perhaps it is time to come up with a new term to describe the symptoms of clinical depression. By using new language, more people might understand the disease and show more compassion toward individuals suffering from it.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.