nayyirah waheed wrote, “in our own ways, we all break. it is okay to hold your heart outside of your body for days. months. years. at a time.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with some of my doula sisters and our conversation turned to mental health. This was not our planned topic of discussion, yet it quickly became clear that it was a conversation we all needed to have. Two of us are mothers of young adults, who we have had to help navigate through the stress of high school and some pretty scary anxiety-derived moments.
It was interesting to find that we both had the experience of our children suffering panic attacks during the school day. As we shared more and more about our children, we also learned that we both had a supportive approach to talk therapy and school counseling. We agreed that counseling had been beneficial and that we would continue to encourage it as a way to cope with life and a pathway to developing tools to thrive. It was affirming for me to hear that another mom had encouraged her teen to seek counseling to deal with mental health challenges.
One of our younger sisters praised our ability as parents, to not only hear and empathize with our teens but also to be open to them getting help. She then began to share with us her own experience of dealing with very real trauma in high school and the depression and anxiety that took hold of her as a result. For the sake of her privacy, I will not go into detail about her situation. I will only say that she truly had a terrible experience that led her to seek help, which was not provided. No one listened to her or took her seriously. She had to take her healing into her own hands.
Unfortunately, she is still feeling hurt from what she went through and dealing with the fact that the adults around her, at school and at home, did not really do anything to help her to cope. I was deeply touched by her sharing her story with us and happy to hold space for her as she did so. Retrospectively, she let us know that listening, understanding, and supporting your child in getting the help they need is the most important thing you can do as a parent. Something she wished she had when she was younger.
We do not have to have all of the answers when it comes to mental health issues, as we do not have all of the answers for physical health issues. There are professionals who are equipped to help – school counselors and psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists who are available to provide care if you seek it. Letting your child know that it is okay to need support and that you will be there for them every step of the way is best. Fear can be a factor in a parent’s inability to accept that their child, teen, or young adult is struggling. Shame, religious beliefs, cultural norms, and a desire for perfection, also play a role in denying that there is an issue that may require professional help.
Our doula sisterhood conversation continued, and it got better. We began to share how we take care of our own mental well-being and the importance of modeling self-care practices for our families. Taking breaks, meditating, prayer, therapy, using breathing techniques, exercising, sleeping, eating well, drinking water, being creative, and being in nature are some of the ways we do this. When our children and spouses or partners see us prioritizing our health, it sends a positive message and allows them to understand that it is normal and acceptable for them as well.
As someone who benefitted from having a therapist in the past, I realized that it helped me to be open to my teen having therapy when it came up. I am definitely an advocate of therapy for all people.
In closing our discussion, our group acknowledged that as parents, as siblings, and surely as doulas, we need to be advocates for our own mental well-being, so that we may show up for those we care for and about. I love the oxygen mask analogy that speaks of the flight attendant’s instructions: “Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.” The reason being, if you run out of oxygen yourself, you cannot help anyone else with their oxygen mask.
Please consider these takeaways from our conversation:
- Listen closely for signs that your child/teen/young adult is asking for help or struggling
- Remain open to them being supported by a professional
- Look for resources at their school or from their doctor
- Read books on mental health and well-being
- Try to put aside any feelings of fear, shame or stigma around mental health issues
- Be a part of their healing process by listening and supporting
- Let them know it is okay to not be okay
- Be encouraging and be encouraged that they will get better
- Model self-care and mental well-being by taking care of yourself
As you read this, I hope that you gain some insight on prioritizing your mental health, as well as your children/teen/young adult’s mental health. I am not an expert, but I care about all of us, especially our children. We all break sometimes.