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Why teen depression is at an all-time high (with Chinwe Williams) | Ep. 375

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THE RISING TIDE OF TEEN DEPRESSION: UNDERSTANDING AND ADDRESSING A MODERN CRISIS

In recent times, the specter of teen depression has loomed larger than ever before, casting a long shadow over the lives of young individuals across the globe. With reports indicating a significant upsurge in cases of depression among adolescents, the need to unravel the complexity of this issue and explore effective strategies for intervention has never been more urgent.

At the heart of the matter is the alarming statistic that suicide rates among teenagers aged 15 to 19 have surged by 76% since 2007, with a particularly distressing increase observed in teen girls. The rates of suicide have doubled among female teens compared to their male counterparts, underscoring a gendered dimension to the crisis. Moreover, the youngest demographic, children between the ages of 10 and 14, has witnessed the highest rate of increase in suicide across all age groups, a fact that underscores the severity and early onset of mental health challenges in today's youth.

This escalation in teen depression and suicidal ideation can be attributed to a myriad of factors, ranging from societal pressures and the rapid pace of cultural shifts to the unique challenges posed by the digital age. The omnipresence of social media and technology, while offering new avenues for connection, has paradoxically fostered a sense of isolation and disconnection among adolescents. The digital landscape, with its relentless comparison and instant feedback loops, has exacerbated feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and despair among young people.

Furthermore, the impact of depression is not confined to any single demographic. Contrary to previous beliefs that African-American families were less likely to experience suicidal ideation, recent research has unveiled an elevated risk among African-American boys aged five to 11. This revelation challenges preconceived notions about the protective factors supposedly inherent in certain communities and underscores the indiscriminate nature of mental health challenges.

The narrative surrounding teen depression and despair is further complicated by the conflation of despair with clinical depression. While depression is a diagnosable condition characterized by a specific set of symptoms persisting over time, despair can embody similar feelings of hopelessness and sadness without necessarily meeting the criteria for a clinical diagnosis. This distinction is crucial for understanding the breadth and depth of the emotional turmoil experienced by adolescents, which may not always fit neatly into diagnostic categories.

Addressing this burgeoning crisis requires a multifaceted approach, centered around the power of connection and the cultivation of resilience. Building resilience in young people involves fostering internal coping mechanisms as well as providing robust external support systems. Parents, educators, and mental health professionals play a pivotal role in modeling healthy coping strategies and offering unwavering support to adolescents navigating the tumultuous waters of mental health challenges.

One of the key strategies for combatting teen depression involves nurturing meaningful connections between young people and their caregivers. The act of showing up for adolescents in both significant moments and the mundane details of daily life can have a profound impact on their sense of belonging and self-worth. Consistency in presence and support, coupled with genuine engagement in activities that resonate with the interests of young people, can fortify their emotional resilience and counteract feelings of isolation and despair.

In the digital realm, it is imperative to strike a balance between leveraging technology for connectivity and mitigating its potential negative impacts on mental health. Encouraging responsible and mindful use of social media, fostering face-to-face interactions, and emphasizing the importance of digital detoxes can help alleviate the pressure and anxiety associated with online environments.

As society grapples with the escalating crisis of teen depression, it becomes increasingly clear that a collective effort is required to address the underlying causes and provide a supportive framework for adolescents. By prioritizing mental health education, advocating for comprehensive support services, and fostering an environment of openness and understanding, we can begin to turn the tide against teen depression. In doing so, we not only alleviate the immediate suffering of young individuals but also lay the groundwork for a healthier, more resilient generation.

TRANSCRIPTION

Kimberley: Welcome, everybody. I am so delighted to have our guest on today, Dr. Chinwé Williams. Welcome, Dr. Chinwé Williams. I’m so happy to have you here.

Chinwé: Oh, I’m so excited to be here. Thanks so much for having me.

Kimberley: As I said to you, several months ago, I was having a massive influx of cases of teens, my teen clients and my staff’s teen clients reporting really strong waves of depression, including not just my clients, but also my pre-teen, also reporting that that’s what some of our friends are reporting. I think it’s everywhere. And I really feel that, even though we always talk about anxiety here, I really wanted to make sure we’re addressing the really high rates of depression and despair in teens. So, thank you for writing the most wonderful book. As I went to research that, I found your book, it’s called, Seen: Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teenagers and the Power of Connection. So, thank you for writing that book.

Chinwé: Thank you so much for reading it. Yes.

Kimberley: Yes, I actually listened to it. So, I actually got to hear your voice, which I thought was really beautiful because you and Will Hutcherson, who wrote it, it was lovely. You bounced back and forward between the two of you.

Chinwé: Yes, we did. We did.

Kimberley: What made you decide to write this book?

Chinwé: I started my career as a high school counselor, my goodness, probably now 18 years ago, which is so weird for me to admit that, or even wrap my mind around that. And I loved working with adolescents. And in the particular high school that I was working at, we were really, really able to do the work of promoting and supporting the mental and emotional well-being of students, not just the academic well-being. And a lot of my school counselor friends at other schools, they were really focused on the schedule and post-secondary options, and SATs. So, I was really fortunate to be at a school where I saw students almost like how I’m seeing clients clinically, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, 11:15, 11:30. And so, that was such a great experience for me, especially early in my career.

The reason we wrote the book is because, back then, 18 years ago, I saw a little bit of self-harm. I saw anxiety. I saw depression. I certainly saw despair. I saw kids, students struggling with relationships, struggling with, what is my future going to look like? However, what we are seeing today, what I am seeing in my clinical practice, I still work with adolescents, but I do work with a great deal of adults. I work with parents and families, and I have conversations with just my friends and people that I’m doing life with. The episodes or experiences of anxiety and depression has really just increased significantly. Kimberley, I am sure that you are so aware of just the stats that are out there that really point to the shift that’s occurred in our culture, specifically as it relates to youth mental health.

Just for example, and this seems like such a long time ago, but I think it really gives us an idea of how much has changed, a good bit has changed in a relatively short period of time. But the stats are pointing to the fact that since 2007, suicide rates have increased a whopping 76% for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19. So 76%. So the bulk of that number really is pointing to how our teen girls are struggling. Suicide rates are double in teen girls versus our boys. The highest rate of increase in suicide among all age groups—and this is where I always have to take a deep breath still—is in kids. These are kids between the ages of 10 and 14 is what the research is showing.

The alarming part of this whole thing is that we’re seeing younger and younger kids impacted by what we sometimes think of as, yes, adolescence is tough. There are hormones. There’s social pressures. There are academic pressures. Kids are worried about the future. Well, younger and younger kids are also being impacted by feelings of hopelessness and discouragement.

And the other thing—you and I talked about this before we started recording. The other thing that’s been really shocking for a lot of people to learn is when I started my career, way back in the day, we were told that families of color, specifically African-American families, were really the least likely to take their own lives. But what we have learned recently, and this is a stat that has really shocked, but also confused and confounded a lot of clinicians, as well as mental health researchers, is that there’s an elevated risk of suicidal thoughts for African-American boys between the ages of five and 11. So once again, just younger and younger kids are experiencing really hopeless feelings, but we are seeing the most anxiety, the most despair, and depression among adolescents and young adults. So that’s why we wrote the book.

Kimberley: I get teary just hearing about it. My heart aches, and I feel like it’s a crisis. It’s a crisis that they’re experiencing and parents. I think what was really also very beautiful that you talked in the book about how, I think, even as clinicians, we perceive kids who are struggling with, “Oh, they must have gone through a trauma.” But also, it’s just kids who haven’t been through a trauma. I mean, I think the COVID in and of itself and all of the unrest of our world is traumatic for everybody. But it was also very validating to see that this is also for reasons that we yet don’t really understand. Do you want to speak to that at all?

Chinwé: Yes, absolutely. So in the book, I wrote about clients that I’ve experienced throughout the years. I’ve changed factors and variables that would easily identify them. But many people will point to some of the illustrations in the book that are of kids who come from really supportive families. Many of them are high achieving. Many of them have a lot of resources that they just have access to, and yet they still experience levels of anxiety, sadness, even are self-harming, even espouse suicidal thoughts, or we call it suicidal ideation.

What that tells us, again, I think just sort of zooming out, is the bigger picture of just so many things that have shifted in our culture, so many things that have shifted from a societal perspective where young people are feeling disconnected, they’re feeling more anxious, they are more resourced. The research tells us that Gen Alpha and Gen Z are the most diverse, more resourced, tech-savvy. They’re so connected to the technological and global world, but they feel so disconnected oftentimes from themselves, from their family members, and also their friends. And so, I think it really is so interesting that it really speaks to, regardless of the walk of life or where you or your family falls from an income perspective, none of us are immune.

I try to be pretty transparent. My daughter has given me permission to share. She is 20 years old. She’s in college. She is brilliant and kind and thoughtful and highly sensitive and gifted and has a mother who’s a mental health professional. And at 13, she experienced high, high anxiety and high levels of despair. And again, she’s given me permission to share, and I do share this when I talk to parents and educators across the country, and I’m so grateful that she’s given me that permission. But just to show that she had resources. She was in private school. She’s my bonus daughter. She had support from me, her dad, and also her biological mom, and her grandparents, and she still experienced what a lot of kids across the country are experiencing.

Kimberley: I’m so grateful you share that. I think that that’s it too. We would assume that if your bonus mom is a therapist and you have all the resources, it just wouldn’t happen to you. But it doesn’t discriminate, does it? It can affect any family. As a clinician, I don’t think I was really trained to really understand that either. I was trained to think like, okay, there must be something wrong with the family, they must be fighting at home, or there must be discord at home, or so forth. So I’m so grateful that you share that. And thank you to her. How brave and wonderful that she struggled and obviously came through on the other side, absolutely.

In the book, this blew my mind, really, honestly. I’m almost embarrassed to say, but it blew my mind that you described that there is a difference between despair and depression. Can you share what that is all about?

Chinwé: Yes. As you know, depression is a clinical term. It’s a diagnosis that has a set of symptomology that’s connected to it. So, we as clinicians are looking for certain symptoms that exist more days than not over a two-week period of time, right? At that two-week mark, I’m starting to pay a lot of attention when parents are sharing what’s happening with their kids. Because when you’re an adolescent, we know that hormones will shift your mood, you’ll be high on something that you’re watching on TV. Not high literally, because we got to make that distinction. You’re not vaping or using marijuana, but you’re feeling euphoric and you’re elated about something maybe you’re seeing on television. And then you look down at your phone, or your mom asks you to clean your room or do your work. And then you can look like you have a level of despair. But that may not be the case, right? We know with adolescents, there are just normal ups and downs that are just a part of that stage of development.

So it’s important to really share that in order to get a diagnosis of depression. You want to see a number of symptoms for a period of time that really impact your child’s level of functioning in a persistent and pervasive way. Maybe they’re not functioning as well as they normally would at school or if they have an after-school job or an extracurricular activity or you’re noticing that some things at home. So those are some things that we look at from a clinical perspective.

Now, despair is something different, but not by a whole lot. There’s a whole lot of overlap, and we do go into it with pretty great in-depth in the book, but essentially, despair really has a lot of those same symptoms of depression where you’re feeling lethargic, perhaps low energy. You struggle with thoughts that tell you maybe that you’re not enough, you’re inadequate, or inferior. Sometimes you don’t feel like doing those things that you normally love to do. In clinical terms, we call it anhedonia, right? Those things that you typically enjoy that make you happy—playing with your pet, going for a walk, hanging out with your friends. If you’re not doing those things, we do start to wonder about some mood issues, some internalizing disorders. So, anxiety, mood issues such as depression, but with despair, and we make this distinction on purpose with intentionality, and here’s why.

Despair does share a lot of the symptoms as depression, but it doesn’t need to meet the criteria for major depression for us to really know that is a tough place to be. And many of us, especially young people, we may not be able to just relate or connect to having major depression or bipolar, but many of us on this earth can relate to having an experience of loss or grief or deep disappointment, or pain that we just continue to stuff and we rally and we show up for the next thing and we show up for the next thing. But that pain is still there, and it doesn’t really have a place to go because we haven’t really shared with people that we were going through this pain. We just kept going with our routine.

Despair can make you feel the exact same way, but it doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of a mental health diagnosis. And it’s important to point out because young people right now are going to social media outlets like TikTok, and they’re hearing from social media influencers—I put that in quotation marks—that are saying, “If you have this symptom, then you have this diagnosis.” And so, young people are attaching to those labels, and we did not want that in this book. This book is for anyone who has a child, a student, someone that you’re coaching, leading, guiding, that is struggling with a mental health issue, or just struggling emotionally, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to a criteria that indicates that there’s some sort of diagnosis.

Kimberley: Thank you for differentiating that, because that was really cool for me to hear from a clinician diagnostically. That was really cool to know. Let’s talk about solutions. So we know this is happening. You talk about, and I am too is going to say, like we’re sending all the love to the parents who are navigating this. We’re sending all the love to the clinicians and the teachers and the school counselors and the guidance counselors who are navigating this with their teens. What can we do for our teens, or how can we help them?

Chinwé: Excellent question. As a mental health practitioner and a parent of three kids, I know how difficult it can be to sort of see the big picture when your child is struggling. We all can relate to feeling overwhelmed, again, even as a professional. I’ve talked to my pediatrician friends and my medical doctor friends. It’s the same thing when it’s your kid. You have all the head knowledge, but sometimes it can still be difficult.

I think for all of the families that are listening right now, I want you to remember a really important word that’s actually overused. That word is resilience. We’re hearing a whole lot about resilience. We’re hearing a whole lot about emotional resilience, mental resilience. In the book Seen, we call it grit. We acknowledge because I’m talking to educators across the country that are seeing this and parents and even employers that are feeling this. We acknowledge that in a lot of ways, the younger generation, they have lost their grit. They don’t appear to be as resilient as the older generations.

But where I want to step in is by saying that we don’t shame them or blame them. And how many times have we turned on the news and we heard, “Oh, these kids are snowflakes,” or “These kids are weak,” or “They’re not tough, and they just need to pull their pants up,” and whatever the saying is.

Kimberley: Pull them up by the bootstraps.

Chinwé: Thank you. And your big girl panties—I’ve heard that too. And I was traveling the other day, someone said, “Yeah, my dad always said, ‘Just put some mud on it, put some dirt on it, and keep it going.’” And the older generation, we have a tendency to blame the younger generation for experiencing this mental health crisis, and that just isn’t fair.

We do want to help them to develop grit and build grit, but the way that we help them with resilience is remembering that a key element of resilience is internal coping resources with external support. That external support is key. When young people are facing any sort of mental health challenge, again, it doesn’t have to be depression; it could just be a period of high anxiety or sadness that’s just gone on for too long. They need to know that they have what it takes, but they need people to remind them and people to walk alongside them because life will be full of difficulty, of course. But we want to teach our young people that they can face this, anything that overwhelms them. They can experience that overwhelm, but also know that they have the ability to pull on those internal coping resources, assuming that they’ve been taught those resources, and also access the support of families.

The first thing that I want to tell parents is to model exactly what you want to see. And this is big, and this could be its own episode, and maybe you’ve already done an episode. But the way that we help young people when they’re having a tough time is to model good mental health even—and this is important—even when you’re struggling. Because I struggle sometimes, and I have the coping resources. Life can feel really overwhelming and can test us. But do we pretend like we don’t struggle just because we’re parents or adults or because I’m a licensed professional? Well, how’s that going to help my child?

So, it’s important for parents to know that the very first lesson around mental and emotional wellness has to come from you. When your kids are able to see how you, first of all, identify that you’re having a challenge and then respond to the challenge, that helps them. That helps them know that, okay, I can go through a tough situation or feel a level of distress, but I don’t have to sit with it and rally, or I don’t have to pretend like it hasn’t happened or whatever’s happening hasn’t affected me.

So, what a parent can do is when you get home from work or your day or a meeting with a friend that just was hard and heavy, acknowledge that. We don’t want to weigh kids down, and I get that. We don’t want to put our problems onto them, but it’s okay to say in a very general or conversational way it has been a really long day. Or, “I met with mommy’s friend, Cindy. Oh, she’s had a lot going on in her family. Oh, I just need a moment. I think what I’m going to do is before I get dinner started, I’m going to go for a walk, or I’m going to just take a couple of deep breaths, or I’m just going to have a seat. I’m going to rest.”

How many of us—Kimberley, I’m guilty of this—come home, we’ve had a hard day, we heard something heavy, and we go straight to cooking and cleaning and checking homework and all the things. So, what happens to that energy? So, I feel like this is just a really good opportunity to show kids the value of acknowledging that every day isn’t going to be great and it’s not supposed to be, but what can you do about it?

Kimberley: Yeah. That is so important, I think. And I think it’s easier said than done. I think that parents are exhausted too, right? They’re struggling at high rates too, I’m assuming. I don’t know the research on that. So, I think we also need to wrap everyone in compassion in that we’re doing the best we can.

You also talked about social media before and about how much connecting to social media disconnects them from the family. And I think that as parents, sometimes we let them be on tech because parents need a break, you know what I mean? I know I’ve caught myself with that with my nine-year-old of, “I’m just going to let him have some tech time because I need a break,” but then that’s disconnecting them. Can you speak to the impact of social media for teens?

Chinwé: Yeah. I think the first thing that would really highlight this topic is to mention that just so recently, I want to say probably a couple of months ago, we learned that the federal government, along with at that time 13 separate states—I’m sure it’s more at this point—sued the social media giant, Meta, which many of your listeners will recognize Meta as the parent organization for Facebook and Instagram. Now, we use Facebook and Instagram to promote mental health. And so, there are benefits to social media 100%, and I think it’s important to highlight that for parents because some kids really are getting information about causes that they want to support. They are getting information about mental health. Sometimes it’s in the bite-size way where we want them to dig in a little bit more, right? But they’re good aspects to mental health.

But the reason for the lawsuit was because the social media giant was being accused of creating intentionality features that are causing addiction to social media, which is one of the things that has been identified as fueling this mental health crisis among youth. So, there are real stats that are -- we probably have always had a sense that being connected or over-connected to technology wasn’t good. During COVID, what the heck else were we supposed to do as parents? We were doing Zoom school. I’m sure you had your own podcasts at that point. I was doing podcasts. I was doing telehealth. So I appreciated technology, but like you said, a lot of parents really leaned on technology during that time because we didn’t have a whole lot else going on and kids still needed to stay connected, and so did we. But I think that balance is so key.

I’m going to tell you, when I travel and people ask me, what’s the thing that worries you the most about young people as a former high school counselor, someone who works with adolescent mental health? And I say very quickly, without hesitation, that I am really concerned about the fast-paced nature of our culture. We are moving, I think, at lightning speed as a culture. We’re becoming increasingly more digitally connected, which means that we’re becoming more and more less physically connected. So how does that impact our young people? And we’re so quick to point to these things (I’m holding my phone right now) and ask young people, especially teenagers, to do less of this. But if we’re honest, aren’t we just as guilty as parents?

I have a colleague, and I don’t know if you would agree with this at all. I’m still kind of wrapping my mind around it because I like to see hard stats. But I had a colleague that said that he believes that most adults have some level of digital addiction. I don’t know. I don’t know that for a fact, but I know again that we are very much so attached to our phones. And so, the younger generation sees that. And if they’re going through despair, if they’re having thoughts of self-harming, if they’re having anxious thoughts, and they see that we are super duper connected to our phones, where then do they go? Are we essentially modeling the same thing?

So again, I’m not here to say that technology doesn’t have its utility. It’s not all bad. But when our world is moving so fast that our nervous systems can’t keep up, what do we need to do? The answer is to slow down and have more face-to-face connections.

Kimberley: Yeah. I think that without the research, I can say for myself, it’s interesting. I actually had a colleague of mine, we both agreed we would track how many times we picked up our phone. And when I tracked it, it was always like, “Oh, I’m overwhelmed. I’ll just watch Instagram for a minute,” or “I’m feeling sad. I’ll just watch Instagram for a second.” And it was like, that’s my first coping skill. This is not good. That’s not good. So I totally agree with what you’re saying.

I have one more question for you. So, the real word that felt so yummy to my whole body when I read your book was the word connection and how important that is for our teens but also for, I think, all humans. How might we connect better with our teens?

Chinwé: Oh gosh, can I throw a stat that’s sticking in my head? Can I throw that out right now?

Kimberley: Please.

Chinwé: From birth to graduation, I still get goosebumps, and I’ve been saying this for about a year now. From birth to graduation, we have 936 weeks with our kids. 936 weeks and roughly 3,000 hours in one year. So, just depending on where you are in your parenting phase, depending on just who you are and the makeup of your nervous system, that’s going to land differently for you. But I know the first time, and even today when I hear that, I’m like, “There’s not enough time. Am I doing enough? Should I not be on this podcast? Should I be with her in school?” So it’s fine.

But I think that, like, am I spending enough time? Am I connecting? And I don’t know one parent that I’ve counseled or that I do life with that doesn’t want to be a good parent. And I always remind parents that it’s not this whole connection piece that we’re seeing in the attachment research and the neuroscientific research. It’s not about being a perfect parent. It really is about being an intentional parent and showing up undistracted. So that whole conversation about before we check our kids, let’s see if we’re modeling the behavior we want them to see as it relates to technology. And again, tons of compassion. I’m a huge proponent on giving yourself the kindness that you would give someone else who might be struggling. So, that’s really important. But showing up undistracted, but also showing up when it’s not convenient.

We know through brain research that connection can help bring down all of that energy that happens on the right side of the brain when an individual is highly activated, high anxiety for far too long, a state of despair for far too long, which can actually end up feeling like just numbness, like I feel nothing.

So, what helps individuals to begin to heal, promote that healing is connection with another human being that they feel loved and cared for, that they feel respected, someone that respects them, someone that values who they are, not just what they do. “I love you just for who you are.” That’s something that I say.

I’m actually being reminded of a Valentine’s Day card that my third grader made for me. And he wrote the sweetest thing, and I’m not going to read all of it, but at the very end, he said, “Thank you for loving me even when I’m unlovable.” And I sort of chuckled, and he read it to me and we laughed at the same time because that’s something I say to him all the time. Regardless of the behavior, regardless of what we are facing right now, the correction or the challenge, or you’re not getting along with your brother, I love you no matter what.

So, even just hearing that, even just hearing that as adults that someone is going to be by our side and going to help us through a tough time, even when maybe we’re not acting lovable or “acceptable” from society’s perspective, what’s better than that?

One of the very first tools that we talk about in our book Seen, we have five connection tools. The very first tool is showing up and showing up when it’s not convenient. As mama bears and papa bears, we have that instinct to swoop in and protect our kids when they’re struggling. And we also show up during those huge milestone moments—the concerts, the graduations, the big sporting events. And by the way, kids want to look up and see us and see grandparents in the stands. That’s important.

But the kids that I’ve been counseling throughout the years, they want their parents to show up in the seemingly insignificant and mundane moments of life, just to do basic things. Not to check the homework, not to talk about the boy that texted last night, but go for a coffee to just connect. Go in the front yard and play basketball. Go fishing.

The key is whatever is meaningful and valuable to your child, those are the things that we want parents to engage in. And consistency really matters. And we’re talking about teenagers. This is what I’ve learned throughout the years, especially when I was a school counselor—the tendency is to think that as our kids get older, they need us less and less. And this is what my teenagers in therapy are telling me—I find that when they hit 13, 14, and 15, ooh, they are making huge life decisions. And even though there’s sometimes that conflict that happens between parents and teenagers or parents and preteens that can cause parents to sometimes disconnect because we get our feelings hurt sometimes and disengage, that’s when our kids are making really tough life decisions, so that’s when they need us the most.

Consistency matters. So, it’s not showing up here and there. No knock on people who have busy lives and busy jobs, but the research shows that consistency builds trust. So, we show up, we show up undistracted, and we show up before they ask us to.

Kimberley: So beautiful. For me, it’s been a constant reminder of like, look them in the eyes. It’s so easy to be talking while chopping vegetables or checking email. It’s like, “Kimberley, stop and look at them in the eyes. That’s what they need to be seen.” So, I love that so much.

I understand that you have a new book out. Please tell us all about where people can find you and learn about you. And you have a new book out. Tell us all the things.

Chinwé: Oh, thank you so much. Yes, our first book was Seen, which is really a book for connecting with a young person, if you’re a parent, educator, coach, regardless of mental health diagnosis. However, as we were traveling and sharing about the contents of Seen, everywhere we would go, parents would say, “Oh, this is awesome. I’m going to give this to my teenager.” And Will and I would be like, “No, this is not for your teenager; this is actually for you and another caring adult.” And then they would say, “Well, where’s the book for teenagers or is there a workbook?”

And so, we wrestled with this for about a year, and we decided, looking at the stats, that’s really pointing to anxiety being super high, very rampant among all of us, including adults, 28% of adults have an anxiety disorder. We also are seeing that young people, adolescents, and young adults are struggling with anxiety. So we wrote a book that’s specifically for strategies to help with anxiety, and it’s called Beyond the Spiral: Why You Shouldn’t Believe Everything Anxiety Tells You. And it’s really going over six different lies that anxiety tells you. And here’s a sneak peek: Anxiety tells you that you have no control. Anxiety tells you that you’re going to miss out. Anxiety tells you that you should just ignore it, and anxiety tells you that you’re not safe. And there are two more. But then every single chapter, we talk about the lie, we talk about what’s happening in the brain that’s really highlighting that lie. And then we talk about psychological strategies that are tried and true, probably many of the ones that you’ve written about in your books and resources, many of the ones that I use with my clients today. And then there’s a spiritual piece for those who really have a strong faith. We bring in spiritual elements and practices that we believe are also really important to ease in anxiety.

Kimberley: Amazing. Thank you so much for being here. Is there any social media handles or websites that people can find your information?

Chinwé: Thank you for asking. So I am also pretty active on Instagram, and my Instagram handle is dr.chinwewilliams. So dr.chinwewilliams. And if you want to just learn a little bit more about me and my practice, I have a website, and it’s drchinwewilliams.com.

Kimberley: Amazing. And we’ll link all that in the show notes. I am so grateful for this book. I’m so grateful for you. I love the work that you’re doing. So thank you for coming on.

Chinwé: Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for your -- I’ll be honest with you, when I’m preparing for podcasts, I don’t have a lot of time, but I really do think it’s important to just get a flavor of the host, the content that they produce, the guests that they have on. But I don’t have a lot of time, right? So, I usually have time to listen to maybe 15 or 20 minutes of maybe one or two podcast episodes.

When I tell you, I was like, “Where am I going to start?” I was looking through your title list, and I was blown away. I listened to two and a half episodes, two entire episodes, and a half of one. And I was thinking, where has she been all my life? She’s going to be an amazing resource for my clients who -- I’m a trauma therapist, and as you know, that was formerly considered an anxiety disorder. So this is something that I’m really excited to present to my clients. So thank you for the work that you do.

Kimberley: Oh, thank you so much. I’m so grateful.

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THE RISING TIDE OF TEEN DEPRESSION: UNDERSTANDING AND ADDRESSING A MODERN CRISIS

In recent times, the specter of teen depression has loomed larger than ever before, casting a long shadow over the lives of young individuals across the globe. With reports indicating a significant upsurge in cases of depression among adolescents, the need to unravel the complexity of this issue and explore effective strategies for intervention has never been more urgent.

At the heart of the matter is the alarming statistic that suicide rates among teenagers aged 15 to 19 have surged by 76% since 2007, with a particularly distressing increase observed in teen girls. The rates of suicide have doubled among female teens compared to their male counterparts, underscoring a gendered dimension to the crisis. Moreover, the youngest demographic, children between the ages of 10 and 14, has witnessed the highest rate of increase in suicide across all age groups, a fact that underscores the severity and early onset of mental health challenges in today's youth.

This escalation in teen depression and suicidal ideation can be attributed to a myriad of factors, ranging from societal pressures and the rapid pace of cultural shifts to the unique challenges posed by the digital age. The omnipresence of social media and technology, while offering new avenues for connection, has paradoxically fostered a sense of isolation and disconnection among adolescents. The digital landscape, with its relentless comparison and instant feedback loops, has exacerbated feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and despair among young people.

Furthermore, the impact of depression is not confined to any single demographic. Contrary to previous beliefs that African-American families were less likely to experience suicidal ideation, recent research has unveiled an elevated risk among African-American boys aged five to 11. This revelation challenges preconceived notions about the protective factors supposedly inherent in certain communities and underscores the indiscriminate nature of mental health challenges.

The narrative surrounding teen depression and despair is further complicated by the conflation of despair with clinical depression. While depression is a diagnosable condition characterized by a specific set of symptoms persisting over time, despair can embody similar feelings of hopelessness and sadness without necessarily meeting the criteria for a clinical diagnosis. This distinction is crucial for understanding the breadth and depth of the emotional turmoil experienced by adolescents, which may not always fit neatly into diagnostic categories.

Addressing this burgeoning crisis requires a multifaceted approach, centered around the power of connection and the cultivation of resilience. Building resilience in young people involves fostering internal coping mechanisms as well as providing robust external support systems. Parents, educators, and mental health professionals play a pivotal role in modeling healthy coping strategies and offering unwavering support to adolescents navigating the tumultuous waters of mental health challenges.

One of the key strategies for combatting teen depression involves nurturing meaningful connections between young people and their caregivers. The act of showing up for adolescents in both significant moments and the mundane details of daily life can have a profound impact on their sense of belonging and self-worth. Consistency in presence and support, coupled with genuine engagement in activities that resonate with the interests of young people, can fortify their emotional resilience and counteract feelings of isolation and despair.

In the digital realm, it is imperative to strike a balance between leveraging technology for connectivity and mitigating its potential negative impacts on mental health. Encouraging responsible and mindful use of social media, fostering face-to-face interactions, and emphasizing the importance of digital detoxes can help alleviate the pressure and anxiety associated with online environments.

As society grapples with the escalating crisis of teen depression, it becomes increasingly clear that a collective effort is required to address the underlying causes and provide a supportive framework for adolescents. By prioritizing mental health education, advocating for comprehensive support services, and fostering an environment of openness and understanding, we can begin to turn the tide against teen depression. In doing so, we not only alleviate the immediate suffering of young individuals but also lay the groundwork for a healthier, more resilient generation.

TRANSCRIPTION

Kimberley: Welcome, everybody. I am so delighted to have our guest on today, Dr. Chinwé Williams. Welcome, Dr. Chinwé Williams. I’m so happy to have you here.

Chinwé: Oh, I’m so excited to be here. Thanks so much for having me.

Kimberley: As I said to you, several months ago, I was having a massive influx of cases of teens, my teen clients and my staff’s teen clients reporting really strong waves of depression, including not just my clients, but also my pre-teen, also reporting that that’s what some of our friends are reporting. I think it’s everywhere. And I really feel that, even though we always talk about anxiety here, I really wanted to make sure we’re addressing the really high rates of depression and despair in teens. So, thank you for writing the most wonderful book. As I went to research that, I found your book, it’s called, Seen: Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teenagers and the Power of Connection. So, thank you for writing that book.

Chinwé: Thank you so much for reading it. Yes.

Kimberley: Yes, I actually listened to it. So, I actually got to hear your voice, which I thought was really beautiful because you and Will Hutcherson, who wrote it, it was lovely. You bounced back and forward between the two of you.

Chinwé: Yes, we did. We did.

Kimberley: What made you decide to write this book?

Chinwé: I started my career as a high school counselor, my goodness, probably now 18 years ago, which is so weird for me to admit that, or even wrap my mind around that. And I loved working with adolescents. And in the particular high school that I was working at, we were really, really able to do the work of promoting and supporting the mental and emotional well-being of students, not just the academic well-being. And a lot of my school counselor friends at other schools, they were really focused on the schedule and post-secondary options, and SATs. So, I was really fortunate to be at a school where I saw students almost like how I’m seeing clients clinically, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, 11:15, 11:30. And so, that was such a great experience for me, especially early in my career.

The reason we wrote the book is because, back then, 18 years ago, I saw a little bit of self-harm. I saw anxiety. I saw depression. I certainly saw despair. I saw kids, students struggling with relationships, struggling with, what is my future going to look like? However, what we are seeing today, what I am seeing in my clinical practice, I still work with adolescents, but I do work with a great deal of adults. I work with parents and families, and I have conversations with just my friends and people that I’m doing life with. The episodes or experiences of anxiety and depression has really just increased significantly. Kimberley, I am sure that you are so aware of just the stats that are out there that really point to the shift that’s occurred in our culture, specifically as it relates to youth mental health.

Just for example, and this seems like such a long time ago, but I think it really gives us an idea of how much has changed, a good bit has changed in a relatively short period of time. But the stats are pointing to the fact that since 2007, suicide rates have increased a whopping 76% for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19. So 76%. So the bulk of that number really is pointing to how our teen girls are struggling. Suicide rates are double in teen girls versus our boys. The highest rate of increase in suicide among all age groups—and this is where I always have to take a deep breath still—is in kids. These are kids between the ages of 10 and 14 is what the research is showing.

The alarming part of this whole thing is that we’re seeing younger and younger kids impacted by what we sometimes think of as, yes, adolescence is tough. There are hormones. There’s social pressures. There are academic pressures. Kids are worried about the future. Well, younger and younger kids are also being impacted by feelings of hopelessness and discouragement.

And the other thing—you and I talked about this before we started recording. The other thing that’s been really shocking for a lot of people to learn is when I started my career, way back in the day, we were told that families of color, specifically African-American families, were really the least likely to take their own lives. But what we have learned recently, and this is a stat that has really shocked, but also confused and confounded a lot of clinicians, as well as mental health researchers, is that there’s an elevated risk of suicidal thoughts for African-American boys between the ages of five and 11. So once again, just younger and younger kids are experiencing really hopeless feelings, but we are seeing the most anxiety, the most despair, and depression among adolescents and young adults. So that’s why we wrote the book.

Kimberley: I get teary just hearing about it. My heart aches, and I feel like it’s a crisis. It’s a crisis that they’re experiencing and parents. I think what was really also very beautiful that you talked in the book about how, I think, even as clinicians, we perceive kids who are struggling with, “Oh, they must have gone through a trauma.” But also, it’s just kids who haven’t been through a trauma. I mean, I think the COVID in and of itself and all of the unrest of our world is traumatic for everybody. But it was also very validating to see that this is also for reasons that we yet don’t really understand. Do you want to speak to that at all?

Chinwé: Yes, absolutely. So in the book, I wrote about clients that I’ve experienced throughout the years. I’ve changed factors and variables that would easily identify them. But many people will point to some of the illustrations in the book that are of kids who come from really supportive families. Many of them are high achieving. Many of them have a lot of resources that they just have access to, and yet they still experience levels of anxiety, sadness, even are self-harming, even espouse suicidal thoughts, or we call it suicidal ideation.

What that tells us, again, I think just sort of zooming out, is the bigger picture of just so many things that have shifted in our culture, so many things that have shifted from a societal perspective where young people are feeling disconnected, they’re feeling more anxious, they are more resourced. The research tells us that Gen Alpha and Gen Z are the most diverse, more resourced, tech-savvy. They’re so connected to the technological and global world, but they feel so disconnected oftentimes from themselves, from their family members, and also their friends. And so, I think it really is so interesting that it really speaks to, regardless of the walk of life or where you or your family falls from an income perspective, none of us are immune.

I try to be pretty transparent. My daughter has given me permission to share. She is 20 years old. She’s in college. She is brilliant and kind and thoughtful and highly sensitive and gifted and has a mother who’s a mental health professional. And at 13, she experienced high, high anxiety and high levels of despair. And again, she’s given me permission to share, and I do share this when I talk to parents and educators across the country, and I’m so grateful that she’s given me that permission. But just to show that she had resources. She was in private school. She’s my bonus daughter. She had support from me, her dad, and also her biological mom, and her grandparents, and she still experienced what a lot of kids across the country are experiencing.

Kimberley: I’m so grateful you share that. I think that that’s it too. We would assume that if your bonus mom is a therapist and you have all the resources, it just wouldn’t happen to you. But it doesn’t discriminate, does it? It can affect any family. As a clinician, I don’t think I was really trained to really understand that either. I was trained to think like, okay, there must be something wrong with the family, they must be fighting at home, or there must be discord at home, or so forth. So I’m so grateful that you share that. And thank you to her. How brave and wonderful that she struggled and obviously came through on the other side, absolutely.

In the book, this blew my mind, really, honestly. I’m almost embarrassed to say, but it blew my mind that you described that there is a difference between despair and depression. Can you share what that is all about?

Chinwé: Yes. As you know, depression is a clinical term. It’s a diagnosis that has a set of symptomology that’s connected to it. So, we as clinicians are looking for certain symptoms that exist more days than not over a two-week period of time, right? At that two-week mark, I’m starting to pay a lot of attention when parents are sharing what’s happening with their kids. Because when you’re an adolescent, we know that hormones will shift your mood, you’ll be high on something that you’re watching on TV. Not high literally, because we got to make that distinction. You’re not vaping or using marijuana, but you’re feeling euphoric and you’re elated about something maybe you’re seeing on television. And then you look down at your phone, or your mom asks you to clean your room or do your work. And then you can look like you have a level of despair. But that may not be the case, right? We know with adolescents, there are just normal ups and downs that are just a part of that stage of development.

So it’s important to really share that in order to get a diagnosis of depression. You want to see a number of symptoms for a period of time that really impact your child’s level of functioning in a persistent and pervasive way. Maybe they’re not functioning as well as they normally would at school or if they have an after-school job or an extracurricular activity or you’re noticing that some things at home. So those are some things that we look at from a clinical perspective.

Now, despair is something different, but not by a whole lot. There’s a whole lot of overlap, and we do go into it with pretty great in-depth in the book, but essentially, despair really has a lot of those same symptoms of depression where you’re feeling lethargic, perhaps low energy. You struggle with thoughts that tell you maybe that you’re not enough, you’re inadequate, or inferior. Sometimes you don’t feel like doing those things that you normally love to do. In clinical terms, we call it anhedonia, right? Those things that you typically enjoy that make you happy—playing with your pet, going for a walk, hanging out with your friends. If you’re not doing those things, we do start to wonder about some mood issues, some internalizing disorders. So, anxiety, mood issues such as depression, but with despair, and we make this distinction on purpose with intentionality, and here’s why.

Despair does share a lot of the symptoms as depression, but it doesn’t need to meet the criteria for major depression for us to really know that is a tough place to be. And many of us, especially young people, we may not be able to just relate or connect to having major depression or bipolar, but many of us on this earth can relate to having an experience of loss or grief or deep disappointment, or pain that we just continue to stuff and we rally and we show up for the next thing and we show up for the next thing. But that pain is still there, and it doesn’t really have a place to go because we haven’t really shared with people that we were going through this pain. We just kept going with our routine.

Despair can make you feel the exact same way, but it doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of a mental health diagnosis. And it’s important to point out because young people right now are going to social media outlets like TikTok, and they’re hearing from social media influencers—I put that in quotation marks—that are saying, “If you have this symptom, then you have this diagnosis.” And so, young people are attaching to those labels, and we did not want that in this book. This book is for anyone who has a child, a student, someone that you’re coaching, leading, guiding, that is struggling with a mental health issue, or just struggling emotionally, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to a criteria that indicates that there’s some sort of diagnosis.

Kimberley: Thank you for differentiating that, because that was really cool for me to hear from a clinician diagnostically. That was really cool to know. Let’s talk about solutions. So we know this is happening. You talk about, and I am too is going to say, like we’re sending all the love to the parents who are navigating this. We’re sending all the love to the clinicians and the teachers and the school counselors and the guidance counselors who are navigating this with their teens. What can we do for our teens, or how can we help them?

Chinwé: Excellent question. As a mental health practitioner and a parent of three kids, I know how difficult it can be to sort of see the big picture when your child is struggling. We all can relate to feeling overwhelmed, again, even as a professional. I’ve talked to my pediatrician friends and my medical doctor friends. It’s the same thing when it’s your kid. You have all the head knowledge, but sometimes it can still be difficult.

I think for all of the families that are listening right now, I want you to remember a really important word that’s actually overused. That word is resilience. We’re hearing a whole lot about resilience. We’re hearing a whole lot about emotional resilience, mental resilience. In the book Seen, we call it grit. We acknowledge because I’m talking to educators across the country that are seeing this and parents and even employers that are feeling this. We acknowledge that in a lot of ways, the younger generation, they have lost their grit. They don’t appear to be as resilient as the older generations.

But where I want to step in is by saying that we don’t shame them or blame them. And how many times have we turned on the news and we heard, “Oh, these kids are snowflakes,” or “These kids are weak,” or “They’re not tough, and they just need to pull their pants up,” and whatever the saying is.

Kimberley: Pull them up by the bootstraps.

Chinwé: Thank you. And your big girl panties—I’ve heard that too. And I was traveling the other day, someone said, “Yeah, my dad always said, ‘Just put some mud on it, put some dirt on it, and keep it going.’” And the older generation, we have a tendency to blame the younger generation for experiencing this mental health crisis, and that just isn’t fair.

We do want to help them to develop grit and build grit, but the way that we help them with resilience is remembering that a key element of resilience is internal coping resources with external support. That external support is key. When young people are facing any sort of mental health challenge, again, it doesn’t have to be depression; it could just be a period of high anxiety or sadness that’s just gone on for too long. They need to know that they have what it takes, but they need people to remind them and people to walk alongside them because life will be full of difficulty, of course. But we want to teach our young people that they can face this, anything that overwhelms them. They can experience that overwhelm, but also know that they have the ability to pull on those internal coping resources, assuming that they’ve been taught those resources, and also access the support of families.

The first thing that I want to tell parents is to model exactly what you want to see. And this is big, and this could be its own episode, and maybe you’ve already done an episode. But the way that we help young people when they’re having a tough time is to model good mental health even—and this is important—even when you’re struggling. Because I struggle sometimes, and I have the coping resources. Life can feel really overwhelming and can test us. But do we pretend like we don’t struggle just because we’re parents or adults or because I’m a licensed professional? Well, how’s that going to help my child?

So, it’s important for parents to know that the very first lesson around mental and emotional wellness has to come from you. When your kids are able to see how you, first of all, identify that you’re having a challenge and then respond to the challenge, that helps them. That helps them know that, okay, I can go through a tough situation or feel a level of distress, but I don’t have to sit with it and rally, or I don’t have to pretend like it hasn’t happened or whatever’s happening hasn’t affected me.

So, what a parent can do is when you get home from work or your day or a meeting with a friend that just was hard and heavy, acknowledge that. We don’t want to weigh kids down, and I get that. We don’t want to put our problems onto them, but it’s okay to say in a very general or conversational way it has been a really long day. Or, “I met with mommy’s friend, Cindy. Oh, she’s had a lot going on in her family. Oh, I just need a moment. I think what I’m going to do is before I get dinner started, I’m going to go for a walk, or I’m going to just take a couple of deep breaths, or I’m just going to have a seat. I’m going to rest.”

How many of us—Kimberley, I’m guilty of this—come home, we’ve had a hard day, we heard something heavy, and we go straight to cooking and cleaning and checking homework and all the things. So, what happens to that energy? So, I feel like this is just a really good opportunity to show kids the value of acknowledging that every day isn’t going to be great and it’s not supposed to be, but what can you do about it?

Kimberley: Yeah. That is so important, I think. And I think it’s easier said than done. I think that parents are exhausted too, right? They’re struggling at high rates too, I’m assuming. I don’t know the research on that. So, I think we also need to wrap everyone in compassion in that we’re doing the best we can.

You also talked about social media before and about how much connecting to social media disconnects them from the family. And I think that as parents, sometimes we let them be on tech because parents need a break, you know what I mean? I know I’ve caught myself with that with my nine-year-old of, “I’m just going to let him have some tech time because I need a break,” but then that’s disconnecting them. Can you speak to the impact of social media for teens?

Chinwé: Yeah. I think the first thing that would really highlight this topic is to mention that just so recently, I want to say probably a couple of months ago, we learned that the federal government, along with at that time 13 separate states—I’m sure it’s more at this point—sued the social media giant, Meta, which many of your listeners will recognize Meta as the parent organization for Facebook and Instagram. Now, we use Facebook and Instagram to promote mental health. And so, there are benefits to social media 100%, and I think it’s important to highlight that for parents because some kids really are getting information about causes that they want to support. They are getting information about mental health. Sometimes it’s in the bite-size way where we want them to dig in a little bit more, right? But they’re good aspects to mental health.

But the reason for the lawsuit was because the social media giant was being accused of creating intentionality features that are causing addiction to social media, which is one of the things that has been identified as fueling this mental health crisis among youth. So, there are real stats that are -- we probably have always had a sense that being connected or over-connected to technology wasn’t good. During COVID, what the heck else were we supposed to do as parents? We were doing Zoom school. I’m sure you had your own podcasts at that point. I was doing podcasts. I was doing telehealth. So I appreciated technology, but like you said, a lot of parents really leaned on technology during that time because we didn’t have a whole lot else going on and kids still needed to stay connected, and so did we. But I think that balance is so key.

I’m going to tell you, when I travel and people ask me, what’s the thing that worries you the most about young people as a former high school counselor, someone who works with adolescent mental health? And I say very quickly, without hesitation, that I am really concerned about the fast-paced nature of our culture. We are moving, I think, at lightning speed as a culture. We’re becoming increasingly more digitally connected, which means that we’re becoming more and more less physically connected. So how does that impact our young people? And we’re so quick to point to these things (I’m holding my phone right now) and ask young people, especially teenagers, to do less of this. But if we’re honest, aren’t we just as guilty as parents?

I have a colleague, and I don’t know if you would agree with this at all. I’m still kind of wrapping my mind around it because I like to see hard stats. But I had a colleague that said that he believes that most adults have some level of digital addiction. I don’t know. I don’t know that for a fact, but I know again that we are very much so attached to our phones. And so, the younger generation sees that. And if they’re going through despair, if they’re having thoughts of self-harming, if they’re having anxious thoughts, and they see that we are super duper connected to our phones, where then do they go? Are we essentially modeling the same thing?

So again, I’m not here to say that technology doesn’t have its utility. It’s not all bad. But when our world is moving so fast that our nervous systems can’t keep up, what do we need to do? The answer is to slow down and have more face-to-face connections.

Kimberley: Yeah. I think that without the research, I can say for myself, it’s interesting. I actually had a colleague of mine, we both agreed we would track how many times we picked up our phone. And when I tracked it, it was always like, “Oh, I’m overwhelmed. I’ll just watch Instagram for a minute,” or “I’m feeling sad. I’ll just watch Instagram for a second.” And it was like, that’s my first coping skill. This is not good. That’s not good. So I totally agree with what you’re saying.

I have one more question for you. So, the real word that felt so yummy to my whole body when I read your book was the word connection and how important that is for our teens but also for, I think, all humans. How might we connect better with our teens?

Chinwé: Oh gosh, can I throw a stat that’s sticking in my head? Can I throw that out right now?

Kimberley: Please.

Chinwé: From birth to graduation, I still get goosebumps, and I’ve been saying this for about a year now. From birth to graduation, we have 936 weeks with our kids. 936 weeks and roughly 3,000 hours in one year. So, just depending on where you are in your parenting phase, depending on just who you are and the makeup of your nervous system, that’s going to land differently for you. But I know the first time, and even today when I hear that, I’m like, “There’s not enough time. Am I doing enough? Should I not be on this podcast? Should I be with her in school?” So it’s fine.

But I think that, like, am I spending enough time? Am I connecting? And I don’t know one parent that I’ve counseled or that I do life with that doesn’t want to be a good parent. And I always remind parents that it’s not this whole connection piece that we’re seeing in the attachment research and the neuroscientific research. It’s not about being a perfect parent. It really is about being an intentional parent and showing up undistracted. So that whole conversation about before we check our kids, let’s see if we’re modeling the behavior we want them to see as it relates to technology. And again, tons of compassion. I’m a huge proponent on giving yourself the kindness that you would give someone else who might be struggling. So, that’s really important. But showing up undistracted, but also showing up when it’s not convenient.

We know through brain research that connection can help bring down all of that energy that happens on the right side of the brain when an individual is highly activated, high anxiety for far too long, a state of despair for far too long, which can actually end up feeling like just numbness, like I feel nothing.

So, what helps individuals to begin to heal, promote that healing is connection with another human being that they feel loved and cared for, that they feel respected, someone that respects them, someone that values who they are, not just what they do. “I love you just for who you are.” That’s something that I say.

I’m actually being reminded of a Valentine’s Day card that my third grader made for me. And he wrote the sweetest thing, and I’m not going to read all of it, but at the very end, he said, “Thank you for loving me even when I’m unlovable.” And I sort of chuckled, and he read it to me and we laughed at the same time because that’s something I say to him all the time. Regardless of the behavior, regardless of what we are facing right now, the correction or the challenge, or you’re not getting along with your brother, I love you no matter what.

So, even just hearing that, even just hearing that as adults that someone is going to be by our side and going to help us through a tough time, even when maybe we’re not acting lovable or “acceptable” from society’s perspective, what’s better than that?

One of the very first tools that we talk about in our book Seen, we have five connection tools. The very first tool is showing up and showing up when it’s not convenient. As mama bears and papa bears, we have that instinct to swoop in and protect our kids when they’re struggling. And we also show up during those huge milestone moments—the concerts, the graduations, the big sporting events. And by the way, kids want to look up and see us and see grandparents in the stands. That’s important.

But the kids that I’ve been counseling throughout the years, they want their parents to show up in the seemingly insignificant and mundane moments of life, just to do basic things. Not to check the homework, not to talk about the boy that texted last night, but go for a coffee to just connect. Go in the front yard and play basketball. Go fishing.

The key is whatever is meaningful and valuable to your child, those are the things that we want parents to engage in. And consistency really matters. And we’re talking about teenagers. This is what I’ve learned throughout the years, especially when I was a school counselor—the tendency is to think that as our kids get older, they need us less and less. And this is what my teenagers in therapy are telling me—I find that when they hit 13, 14, and 15, ooh, they are making huge life decisions. And even though there’s sometimes that conflict that happens between parents and teenagers or parents and preteens that can cause parents to sometimes disconnect because we get our feelings hurt sometimes and disengage, that’s when our kids are making really tough life decisions, so that’s when they need us the most.

Consistency matters. So, it’s not showing up here and there. No knock on people who have busy lives and busy jobs, but the research shows that consistency builds trust. So, we show up, we show up undistracted, and we show up before they ask us to.

Kimberley: So beautiful. For me, it’s been a constant reminder of like, look them in the eyes. It’s so easy to be talking while chopping vegetables or checking email. It’s like, “Kimberley, stop and look at them in the eyes. That’s what they need to be seen.” So, I love that so much.

I understand that you have a new book out. Please tell us all about where people can find you and learn about you. And you have a new book out. Tell us all the things.

Chinwé: Oh, thank you so much. Yes, our first book was Seen, which is really a book for connecting with a young person, if you’re a parent, educator, coach, regardless of mental health diagnosis. However, as we were traveling and sharing about the contents of Seen, everywhere we would go, parents would say, “Oh, this is awesome. I’m going to give this to my teenager.” And Will and I would be like, “No, this is not for your teenager; this is actually for you and another caring adult.” And then they would say, “Well, where’s the book for teenagers or is there a workbook?”

And so, we wrestled with this for about a year, and we decided, looking at the stats, that’s really pointing to anxiety being super high, very rampant among all of us, including adults, 28% of adults have an anxiety disorder. We also are seeing that young people, adolescents, and young adults are struggling with anxiety. So we wrote a book that’s specifically for strategies to help with anxiety, and it’s called Beyond the Spiral: Why You Shouldn’t Believe Everything Anxiety Tells You. And it’s really going over six different lies that anxiety tells you. And here’s a sneak peek: Anxiety tells you that you have no control. Anxiety tells you that you’re going to miss out. Anxiety tells you that you should just ignore it, and anxiety tells you that you’re not safe. And there are two more. But then every single chapter, we talk about the lie, we talk about what’s happening in the brain that’s really highlighting that lie. And then we talk about psychological strategies that are tried and true, probably many of the ones that you’ve written about in your books and resources, many of the ones that I use with my clients today. And then there’s a spiritual piece for those who really have a strong faith. We bring in spiritual elements and practices that we believe are also really important to ease in anxiety.

Kimberley: Amazing. Thank you so much for being here. Is there any social media handles or websites that people can find your information?

Chinwé: Thank you for asking. So I am also pretty active on Instagram, and my Instagram handle is dr.chinwewilliams. So dr.chinwewilliams. And if you want to just learn a little bit more about me and my practice, I have a website, and it’s drchinwewilliams.com.

Kimberley: Amazing. And we’ll link all that in the show notes. I am so grateful for this book. I’m so grateful for you. I love the work that you’re doing. So thank you for coming on.

Chinwé: Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for your -- I’ll be honest with you, when I’m preparing for podcasts, I don’t have a lot of time, but I really do think it’s important to just get a flavor of the host, the content that they produce, the guests that they have on. But I don’t have a lot of time, right? So, I usually have time to listen to maybe 15 or 20 minutes of maybe one or two podcast episodes.

When I tell you, I was like, “Where am I going to start?” I was looking through your title list, and I was blown away. I listened to two and a half episodes, two entire episodes, and a half of one. And I was thinking, where has she been all my life? She’s going to be an amazing resource for my clients who -- I’m a trauma therapist, and as you know, that was formerly considered an anxiety disorder. So this is something that I’m really excited to present to my clients. So thank you for the work that you do.

Kimberley: Oh, thank you so much. I’m so grateful.

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