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Parents Shocked by Daughter's Depression
Q: Our 14-year-old daughter has attempted suicide by cutting her wrists. She has low self-esteem and thinks she is fat. She is about 5'3" and weighs 118 lbs. She is very much loved by her parents, has a beautiful home, and is very bright. Her mother and I have done everything possible to give her an excellent, loving home. We cannot understand why she feels so depressed and so badly about herself. We have started counseling, but we're totally shocked and are at a loss of why she did this and what we can do to help her.
A: You are shocked, saddened, confused, scared, and perhaps down deep you are feeling that you should have known that your daughter was so depressed. You can add gratitude to all the feelings I just mentioned because your daughter is alive and you are going to do all that is humanly possible to help her. Being bright and having loving parents and a beautiful home does not immunize teenagers from low self-esteem and depression.
Your daughter's suicidal gesture or serious suicide attempt was her desperate scream for help. Now is the time for your daughter to get the professional help that she needs to treat her depression. It's also the time for you to come to a more intimate understanding of the inner life of your daughter's mind and heart and how you can best assist her in her climb up from depression. I believe that you have been the most loving parents that you know how to be. Do not fault yourselves for her torment. But with good therapy you may learn how to develop an even better relationship with your daughter. When we know better, we do better -- and that goes for forging relationships with our children, too.
Your shock will soon give way to using therapy as a way to reconnect to your daughter in the ways that she needs you most. Do not be discouraged that things don't change for the better in short order. She needs you to abide with her as she summons up the courage to battle her demons and to learn how to feel better about herself and her life. This takes time and the support of her family and friends. Therapy should not be seen as the means to "cure your sick daughter." A talented therapist will see her in the context of being a member of your family, a teenager who has a social world, an individual who has formed her own beliefs about herself and her life, etc. You may be asked to have a very active role in the therapeutic process or not, depending upon the approach of the therapist(s). Make sure that she and her therapist are a "good fit" and that she feels that she can form a trusting bond with that person. I am sure that you will open your minds and hearts in your attempt to help your beloved daughter back into the light. She will cling to your unconditional love, courage, empathy, and patience like a rock.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.