- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dear Ms. Vicki,I’m writing to see what you think about what’s going on with my son. He is a senior in high school and is very depressed because we moved to the District about two months ago. I know he misses all of his friends, and to help him, we are planning a weekend for some of his friends to come and visit him. He is not happy like he used to be, and he is very isolated from everyone.

He used to be so sociable, outgoing and humorous. Now he doesn’t talk to anyone, and he is not trying to make friends at all. This base doesn’t have a youth center because there is not much teen participation or even a lot of teens on base, for that matter.

His only option is to try to make friends at school and possibly hang out with them on the weekends, but he doesn’t try. He is staying in his room, barely eating and not talking to anyone, not even his parents or siblings. This is just not like him. Is this something he will get past or is something wrong with him?

- High School Blues

Dear Blues,

This has been a tough transition for your son. We all react in different ways given the same set of circumstances. One teen may transition well, and another may have a hard time.

I don’t want to cause alarm, but I think you should make an appointment with your son’s primary care physician to discuss these symptoms. It appears he is having symptoms of depression, especially since it’s been more than two months. Some of what he is experiencing is normal, but it has been more than two months, and his mood has not improved. Moreover, it’s causing concern for you, so obviously, as his mother, you know this is not normal behavior for him.

There are many resources to help military children cope with transitions, deployments, etc. I would recommend you visit some of them. Start with www.militaryonesource.com and www.military.com. They feature a wealth of resource information to help your entire family.

In the meantime, make your son an appointment. Many military clinics and hospitals offer same-day appointments. Take care of yourself and keep me informed.

Dear Ms. Vicki,

My children are still grieving the loss of my husband, who was killed in action in 2006. Everyone says if I act happy, then my children will be happy, too. In other words, I guess it’s my fault they are unhappy and depressed. I think I’m being blamed that my family has not bounced back.

I’m trying my hardest to cope every day without being a burden to my close and extended family and friends. They all have been very good to me and my children. The only thing I can say is “it’s been hard.” I never thought in a million years I would be going through this.

I’ve tried not to blame anyone, not even this useless war that took my husband’s life and that of so many others. I’m trying not to be angry. Don’t misunderstand me, the Army has provided a lot of resources for us, and we have been offered counseling. The three sessions I had were just too exasperating, so I stopped going. Plus, I felt like the therapist really didn’t understand what I was going through. My children have never had counseling.

We’ve been going to church and praying a lot, and I try hard to take my pastor’s advice when he says “let it go and move on” in his sermons. This isn’t working for me. So what do I do now?

- What’s Next

Dear What’s Next,

I know this has been a tough road to travel, and I won’t blame you for what your children are experiencing because it’s not your fault. I know you have been doing the best you can. Your feelings are normal given what you have been through.

In my professional opinion, I think people move forward when they are ready. I’m happy you report the Army connected you to many counseling resources. Maybe you weren’t ready for therapy at that time, however, and perhaps you are now.

Many times, it takes time to process what has happened in our lives. It sounds as if you have begun this process, and a good therapist can help you. If you did not like the tone of your first therapist, seek the help of a different one. Look at it this way: What if you were diagnosed with diabetes and did not like your current doctor? It would be detrimental if you said, “I’m not ever going back to the doctor again.” After all, you would still have diabetes, right?

Well, you have many wounds to heal, and just because you did not like this therapist, that hasn’t changed what you and your children are experiencing. There is much I could say on this topic, but I won’t belabor the point. Just know that I am here to support you.

Contact Tricare for a referral to a mental health clinician. Ask for someone who is experienced in grief and loss and trauma. Your children need a trained play therapist. Continue to reach out to family and friends for support. They know and understand. I’m sure they want to support you. You are not alone. Stay in touch with me and let me know how you are doing.

Reader responses:

I love reading your columns and the responses you give back to the spouses and soldiers who write to you. If the readers don’t like how “real” you are with the writers, then they should move on and read something else. There is a reason why people come to you with questions and issues. Obviously they aren’t getting the right answers from anyone, or anywhere else, for that matter. I think you should continue to be “real” with those who write to you and continue to give the wonderful advice that you have to offer everyone. It seems like some people can’t handle the honesty and truth when it needs to be dealt.

Please continue being the person you are, because we definitely need more like you!

- Cecelia

I am not an avid Washington Times reader, but I caught your column recently. I feel you shared some very thoughtful and respectful advice. Keep up the good work. I may even buy this paper on Thursdays and Sundays.

- M.A.

I don’t want to cause alarm, but I think you should make an appointment with your son’s primary care physician to discuss these symptoms. It appears he is having symptoms of depression.

OR

Some of what your son is experiencing is normal, but it has been more than two months, and his mood has not improved. Moreover, it’s causing concern for you, so obviously, as his mother, you know this is not normal behavior for him.

Vicki Johnson is a licensed clinical social worker, military spouse and mother of three. Her column runs in The Washington Times on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at dearmsvicki@yahoo.com.

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