I'll Go First: Facing the Teen Mental Health Crisis

Kim Pitts

"It's okay. I'll go first", that's what my fourteen year old daughter's counselor said as we approached these rocks yesterday. They actually represented the anxiety she's faced this last year with a paralyzing accuracy. In fact, I could feel her tension as she surveyed them, hundreds of worst case scenarios flooding into her brain. Large and encompassing, these rocks only allow her to have a partial view of life's entire vista, and to her they look nearly impossible to surmount. Life with weekly counseling, much like navigating this outcropping became clearer for her, and for us as her parents, with someone walking in front, with someone going first. Someone to identify the stones she shouldn't put all her weight on right now, the ones that were safe enough to use to spring into her next step, and the ones that have always been grounded deep within her that she can return to and use for stability. As her mental health support has helped her traverse this path from the front, we as her family have provided support, encouragement and a soft place to land from behind.

Today however, and going forward I am taking a very different position. After watching my daughter courageously journey across this path over this last year, and talking with many other parents I've realized something. Someone always has to go first. Parents and caregivers, I'll go first. Always. To reduce the stigma around accessing mental health services. I'll go first. To share that other youth have struggled too, that my youth has struggled too. I'll go first. To say that the largest epidemic we have in this country is silence, and that it's not only harming us it is harming our youth. I'll go first. 

It may mean that the conversation gets uncomfortable. If you ask me how things are going, I'll go first. I will tell you honestly that it has been a challenging year because I'll go first. I'll take that first step. On the off chance that it has been a challenging year for you too and you are afraid to share I'll go first.  If there is even the smallest chance it will help you feel less helpless, less isolated, less overwhelmed and less discouraged I'll go first. I'll show you the places you can place weight if you need to. Because I have learned that when I go first, when I share our story of crossing these rocks with help and support, other parents feel safe enough to follow behind. To share their rocky stories too.

If it will help you and your family to navigate these rocks, I'll go first. Not just for my child but for your child too. I can't do this alone though, we all have to be willing to take that first step and to speak our truth.

Will you step out onto these rocks to help other parents feel less alone? Will you go first?