Over more than a year of reporting “The Inner Pandemic,” a new, multipart Times project that explores adolescent mental health, I had the opportunity to listen to families and teens share wrenchingly intimate accounts of self-harm, suicide, anxiety and depression. They were helping me do the detective work to understand the experience of a young generation in profound crisis.
But somewhere along the line, I realized these families were doing their own courageous detective work. They were participating in the journalistic process to try to make sense of what was happening in their own homes, whether to themselves or to their children.
I saw a telling example last year in a small town in upstate New York. I was sitting at a restaurant with my reporter’s notebook in hand, going over my notes, when a waitress approached and asked what I was doing. I told her where I worked and that I was reporting on adolescent mental health.
“You should talk to my daughter,” she said.
The next day, I met with her and her teenage daughter, who had recently spent time in an inpatient treatment center for anxiety and depression. As the girl sat snacking on french fries, she recounted the story of her struggle, her mother sitting alongside and listening intently.
Anxiety and depression are different issues but they do share some indicators. Look for changes in a youth’s behavior, such as disinterest in eating or altered sleep patterns. A teen in distress may express excessive worry, hopelessness or profound sadness.