We BA50 Moms worry — especially when it comes to our kids. And though we’ve been called “helicopter parents” and told we coddle too much, we also simply try to do our best. Which is why we so appreciate the honest talk from one BA50 woman – who prefers to be anonymous – about dealing with her teen’s depression at college. It’s a very real and very scary topic and we hope her frankness will help start more conversations.
BA50: Talk to us about your son’s depression.
BA50 Mom: When my son left for college he wanted to be independent and needed space to be an adult and, of course, I encouraged that. What I came to learn was that he was hiding the fact that he was struggling academically and socially — exhibiting symptoms of depression.
BA50: How did you learn this?
BA50 Mom: His first year grades were good enough, but during spring break sophomore year, he arrived home and told us he got an extension on a take home final. During the week, it became clear that he had a brain freeze on his project. It also became clear that our little pep talks during Finals week were all about him hiding about how badly the week had been going.
He spent a stressful time at home trying to finish the paper and he just couldn’t do it– he couldn’t even articulate what the project was about and we got nowhere. We were all totally stressed out! The harder it was for him to write the paper, the more we learned about how he had struggled during his last two semesters.
BA50: How were you not aware of his grades?
BA50 Mom: As an “adult,” he didn’t have to release his grades to us. We have no rights with the university, even though we’re paying tuition, room and board. This is every university’s policy. In hindsight, we should have made more of a stink about this, but he felt that our knowing his grades was infantilizing.
BA50: So how did you finally get the information?
BA50 Mom: We had to go nuclear – meaning we threatened to take away allowance and take him out of school. It felt excessive but we had to know what the whole story was and money was our only leverage.
BA50: Did he open up with you?
BA50 Mom: Not right away because threatening someone doesn’t tend to encourage them to open up with you. We had never had to behave this way before with him. We had never had to be threatening with him ever before and now we were changing the whole tone of our relationship.
Two days later, we all were out at an event and we suddenly had to leave. He was in tears – he’d gotten a text from his professor telling him he should withdraw from the course because he would be getting a failing grade.
BA50: Were you totally shocked?
BA50 Mom: Yes. We had no idea. We had to deal with a readjustment of the facts. Instead of a kid who is trying to assert his independence in a new location – I realized now I am looking at my “adult” child who is completely struggling. He suddenly recognized he couldn’t do this on his own and we suddenly realized just how deep this situation was.
BA50: What about his self esteem?
BA50Mom: In the toilet – but that’s not even the issue. The real problem was his mental health, but because he’s an adult – 19 years – I couldn’t make him see a therapist
BA50: Did you want to pull him out of school?
BA50 Mom: He desperately wanted to stay in school and make a success of it, so we didn’t push the leaving school part.
BA50: So what’s the plan now?
BA50 Mom: There is no perfect solution. He is still in school. He’s finally seeing a therapist. Our relationship is more open. We talk to him nearly every day. He is working hard but continues to face challenges. We have good days and bad days.
BA50: What suggestions do you have for parents who are dealing with this issue?
BA50 Mom: It’s a journey, not a short term fix. Communicate, communicate, communicate. We take it one day at a time.