How Do I Help My Daughter?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

About 6 months ago I found out my husband had been having suicidal ideation for about a year. I thought he was having a lot of work related stress and had no idea how bad he was because he managed to be highly functional despite his depression. Depression and suicide runs in his family. Shortly after that I found my 16 yr old weeping and stressed a few times. A year ago one of her acquaintances committed suicide and two of her friends have been depressed and are now being treated for it. She was in constant fear that someone else was going to die. Fearing she was also in trouble I got her into therapy. As her father and friends have improved with medication and therapy, it seemed like my daughter had improved, but neither her and I have felt like her therapy sessions have had much impact. She is very shy still with her therapist. Tonight she broke down and was crying again. She is very imaginative and says that she wishes she lived in the fantasies she imagines and is disappointed that she can’t. But sometimes it feels like they are real. Real life is boring. She can’t stand being around most people and large groups of people make her feel very anxious. She feels irritable around her family and feels like being mean to her siblings and harps on them. She hates feeling like she is a mean person, but can’t help it. She is often disrespectful to my husband and I and doesn’t care and feels guilty that she doesn’t. A couple weeks ago she was mad at us because we wanted her to do her chores and she stormed out of the house and was gone for a couple hours before returning. It scared me, but we just treated it like she retreated to her room for a bit, because we didn’t want her to using running away as an attention getting thing. She was interested in writing but no longer wants to because she is discouraged that she can’t write out what she can imagine much better. She knows she is being too perfectionistic about it but can’t get past it. I also think she feels low self esteem because although she is very bright, imaginative and enjoyable to be around she compares herself to others, including her siblings, who have talents that are more easily seen such as being in the gifted program, music or athletics. She was a very outgoing, fun child but is much more reserved and insecure as a teen, at least outside of the family. She says she thinks something is wrong with her. She sleeps fine, no weight or diet changes and had straight A’s. She doesn’t want to go to her therapist anymore or start over with anyone else. I don’t know if she is just going through normal growing pains or if she really needs more intervention. And my recent failure to see my husband’s needs makes me not trust my own judgment on the matter. I just want all my family to all be happy again. What can/should I do to help her?

A. Between your husband’s recent suicidal ideation and the suicide of one of your daughter’s acquaintances, the fact that she is reacting to these circumstances is normal, but professional intervention is required. Some research suggests that suicide can be contagious, especially among teenagers. One person’s suicide or suicidal ideation can trigger another person’s thoughts or behaviors. Though she has never directly expressed suicidal thoughts, her risk of suicide is elevated.

You felt that her therapy was not helping but was it given a fair chance? Your daughter improved but you allowed her to quit because she was “very shy with her therapist.” Shyness is not uncommon in the beginning of therapy. It takes time to build a trusting relationship. She should return to therapy. Try another therapist. We are not all the same.

If resuming therapy is not an option, then you should contact the therapist, report that your daughter refuses treatment but clearly needs it and ask for help. The therapist is familiar with her case and can advise you about how to proceed.

Given your daughter’s exposure to suicide, she may be more susceptible to suicidal thoughts or behaviors than someone without exposure. Your daughter should be in treatment.

If you continue to struggle to help your daughter, then you should consider entering individual therapy. Family therapy is also a wise option, especially given your husband’s suicidal ideation. If you attended therapy, you would serve as a great role model for your daughter. If she sees that you are willing to engage in treatment, then she might follow in your footsteps. Do whatever is necessary to ensure that she receives help. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle
Mental Health & Criminal Justice Blog

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Aug 2013

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2013). How Do I Help My Daughter?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/08/10/how-do-i-help-my-daughter-2/