My sister and brother-in-law, two loving grandparents, recently watched their granddaughter battle her way through a deep depression. It was hard feeling there was little we could do to help.
John Kirwan, ex-All Black and a strong advocate for Depression Awareness, is a dedicated father of three teenagers. In his new book Stand By Me he shows parents what they can do, and where to go for help if one of their teenagers shows signs of anxiety or depression. Stand By Me is targeted at parents but I thought it could be useful for grandparents too.
I had the opportunity to ask Kirsty Louden-Bell, a registered clinical psychologist and one of the co-authors of this book for her opinion and to also answer a few other questions I had. Her answers follow.
Is this book relevant to Grandparents as well as parents?
Absolutely. We see the book as being relevant to anyone in a caregiving role and appreciate that nowadays many grandparents can be either raising young people/teens or looking after them whilst parents work or are away.
Beyond that grandparents can also play an essential role in a young person’s life as another family member for them to go to when things at home are under stress. They can be someone who encourages them, loves them, and potentially provides a ‘safe haven’ or some time out for all concerned.
Oftentimes just doing something together like some sort of outing or a relaxed favourite meal in front of the TV can be just what is needed – finding an activity that provides a break or distraction from the worries for a time for either the young person or the parent.
A key theme in the book is obviously standing by your young person and sometimes this is easier when you’re not caught up in the day to day. It’s also something that can be done long-distance, over the phone or a card in the post, or for the tech savvy, via Facebook or text messages.
How can Grandparents support the parents as well as the teenager?
One of the other points we try and emphasise in the book is how important it is for parents to have a break and have support for themselves. Where possible grandparents can assist with this by helping provide ‘time out options’ and being a listening ear for parents.
Time out could be a number of things, for example, having the young person come over once a week or come and stay with them for a bit so the parents can head away for a night or weekend. Where previously parents may have left their teen at home whilst they went out, they may be worried to do this if their young person is anxious or depressed. Or it may be nice for the young person to have a break from the house or for the other siblings to get some time with mum and dad.
In terms of being a listening ear, it can be challenging for parents to find people they feel they can talk safely and openly to. This doesn’t mean you have to have ‘the answers’ – it’s just a being there, letting them offload, debrief, and then encouraging them to keep moving forward. It’s easy for the parents, young persons and families view of who they are and how they operate to become dominated by the depression or anxiety and they may need reminding that they are good people and doing their best at a difficult time.
What kind of things can Grandparents do that are unhelpful?
One of the great things that hopefully occurs as we age is increased wisdom but a side effect of that is a desire to share this wisdom with the younger generation who frequently don’t want to hear it! In the context of depression or anxiety where there is an immense amount of self-stigma and self-blame any imparted wisdom can be taken the wrong way. It can be seem as increased expectations, blame, or judgement – all things that someone with depression or anxiety or someone caring for them is already feeling and often oversensitive to.
The attitude towards depression and the medical treatment available have changed markedly over time. Will this book help to update Grandparents?
Absolutely. Treatments have advanced dramatically over the last few decades from institutionalisation and ECT to talk therapies and medications if necessary. Current treatments are much more effective and readily available and have been used to great effect by many people such as Sir John. The book aims to increase understanding of what depression and anxiety look like and the range of treatments now available.
I read Stand By Me and found it an accessible and helpful book which I would very much recommend to any grandparent should a grandchild show signs of anxiety or depression so they will know how to reach out and lend a helping hand.
Stand By Me by John Kirwan is published by Penguin (RRP $40.00)