It’s spring . . . and it actually feels like it’s spring finally! The sun is shining. The robins are singing. The weather is warming. The snow is melting . . . and melting . . . and melting. Everything is bright and cheery.
So why am I bringing us all down by talking about depression?!
For one simple reason . . . Spring is the riskiest time of year to be depressed. Contrary to popular belief, much research indicates that the the highest rates of suicide occur in the spring. Why? There are many theories about this . . . the swing seasons of fall and spring tend to be the most triggering for people who thrive on consistency, personal biochemistry alters as the seasons change, depressed people start to feel just the tiniest bit better so that they now have the energy and motivation capable to act upon their suicidal ideations, depressed people have been justifying their depression with the dark and gloominess of winter, and when the hope that sunshine will bring improved mood proves untrue, the hopelessness takes over. For a multitude of reasons, spring is risky.
We also know that giftedness may be a risk factor. Gifted people have been shown to be more prone to existential depression, more prone to eating disorders, more prone to develop some form of mood disorder in their lifetime, and more prone to anxiety. And, we could hypothesize that springtime for gifted students might trigger some risky thoughts and behaviors associated with these mental health needs. Students who worry about the future, finish up one more grade, and get one step closer to that foreboding future might feel overwhelmed with uncertainty. Gifted kids who have excelled at academics and have now graduated might feel lost and uncertain. The final exams and increased social events and overall busy-ness of the spring months might lead to being overwhelmed and making impulsive decisions.
We’re entering a risky few months. To be clear, I’m not predicting that you or your child will suffer from suicidal thoughts. I’m not encouraging hypervigilance and over-reactivity. I’m not trying to fear-monger. But, I am trying to help us be mindful. We don’t need to be hypervigilant, but we do need to be vigilant. I’ve read too many stories and known too many bright kids whose lives were cut short due to depression.
How can we be vigilant? Know the signs and be willing to talk about them.
If your child’s behaviors change significantly, ask about it with curiosity.
If your child changes friend groups, ask about it with curiosity.
If your child is sleeping more or less than what is typical for them, be curious.
If your child is eating more or less than usual, be curious.
If your child talks about stress, the drama of school/friends, “heavy-ness,” or being overwhelmed, listen to them.
If your child talks about fears of the future, listen to them.
If your child moves more slowly than usual, seems more spacy than usual, shows less emotions than usual, be curious.
If your child stays home more than usual, hides away in her room more than usual, disengages from friends and family, ask her about it.
If your child is more irritable than typical, has more emotional outbursts than usual, just doesn’t smile as much, ask him about it.
How do we ask about it? Bluntly. Directly. Saying the hard words, such as these:
“I’ve noticed that you haven’t been wanting to get out of the house as much, what’s going on?”
“You seem pretty withdrawn, are you okay?”
“Have you had any thoughts of hurting yourself?”
“Have you thought about suicide?” “Do you know what you’d do to die by suicide?” “Do you have a plan?” “Do you have access to the plan?”
Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, as a parent it’s hard to go there in our own minds. No, you will not be putting suicidal thoughts into the mind of someone if he/she weren’t already thinking about it. No, you will not make your child depressed by talking about it.
Depression lies to the people it grabs hold of. One of the biggest, most devastating lies it tells is that nobody cares about them. Depression says no one knows them. No one understands them. No one even cares enough about them to recognize that they aren’t doing well.
It’s up to us to prove depression wrong. Tell your kids you care about them. Be curious to learn about all the ins and outs of them. Accept them as they are and tell them so. Recognize the signs of depression and let your kid know that you see they aren’t doing well. Talk to them. Ask them. Listen to them. And, when needed, get extra help.