Brooke* is creative, outgoing and has a great sense humor. She is like so many other 14-year-old girls, filled with imagination, big dreams and a budding sense of identity.
However, for the past several months, Brooke has been different. She’s been crying quite a lot and has trouble eating. She can’t seem to focus in class and walks around feeling lethargic. Typically outgoing, she is now withdrawn.
No event can be traced as a trigger for her current state of emotions. Brooke has a supportive and nurturing family, good friends and wonderful mentors.
But Brooke is depressed and her parents know it. And yet, they are hesitant to go for help. Why?
Depression, like many other mental health and physical conditions, may be a condition that one is predisposed to. A greatly held misconception, however, is that mental health conditions, even those as common as depression and anxiety, are the result of poor parenting.
True, there are situations in which parental abuse and neglect may well result in a child experiencing traumatic reactions, including depression and anxiety. Yet contrary to popular belief, for the majority of children affected by anxiety or depression, their condition is not the result of poor parenting.
But parents who are confronted with the fact that their child may benefit from psychological treatment may become defensive–and minimize their child’s condition. They may feel that their role as nurturing and loving parents is being questioned.
To make matters more complicated, parents may fear that their child or family will be judged or criticized if they seek therapy.
The more I listen to individuals who suffer from mental health conditions, the more I learn how hard it can be to tell a professional about anxiety, depression, or other issues. Mental health issues–despite how common they may be–often carry a particularly heavy stigma within the Jewish community. Many who suffer end up doing so in silence.
Over 100 years ago, Sigmund Freud, a Jew, broke with history to de-stigmatize mental illness. Regrettably, many of us still haven’t learned the lessons he was trying to teach.
By submitting to the stigma, we are doing ourselves and our children a disservice.
Talking in a supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere with a trained therapist provides the opportunity to gain awareness and increased ability to manage difficult emotions. Research shows how cognitive-behavioral therapy is effective in treating genetic and neurobiological conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and even schizophrenia.
We must realize that mental heath issues are more common than we know and nothing to be ashamed of. We must realize we are not at fault. We must trust that the benefits of therapy are worth it.
We must break free of our personal doubts to provide our children with the best possible care.
*Name changed for privacy.
Amy Burzinski, LISW, is a school counselor and private practitioner. Amy provides workshops and professional training on bullying prevention throughout the U.S. and maybe be reached through her website www.BullyingPreventionInJDS.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.