Not to get too morbid, but the past two weeks have been hellish. I feel my last week’s posts have focused on death. But it’s what is happening in our lives. I feel raw from the sadness of losing our friend Mark, and then I got a phone call late Friday night from a fellow swim mom. It’s not like her to call me. We haven’t talked much since our daughters graduated college with our swim parenting days behind us.
She started the call by saying, “I have something awful to tell you, but it’s not about Kat or Megan.” Kat and Megan are our daughters who swam together at the University of Utah. It was about one of their former teammates. He committed suicide.
I was getting texts and calls. Everyone was worried about my daughter and how she’d take the news. She was at work, and I asked everyone to talk to her once she got off work. In the end, her coach from Utah made the call and they cried together. Then my daughter went to her brother’s house and sat with his girlfriend. I’m so thankful and grateful to have them so close.
I am devastated for the loss of this young man of 24. He was the type of person everybody wanted to be around. He was tall, good looking, smart, funny. He had a hearty laugh that was contagious. He was so polite and well-mannered that when we went out to dinner with him, he’d stand when I got up to use the bathroom.
I’ve heard from swim moms that his teammates are devastated. Nobody had a clue that life was less than perfect for him. Nobody knew that he was suffering. There weren’t any signs.
I cannot imagine how his family is doing. I enjoyed his parents so much and often sat with them at swim meets beginning in high school through college. His older sister is one of my daughter’s best friends and the three of them spent tons of time together.
I asked my husband, “How much pain are we able to take?”
This makes me worry about the mental health of our youth more than ever. I want to know if social media has made depression and anxiety worse? There’s a difference of three years between my son and daughter. Social media was only MySpace when my son was in middle school and early high school. By the time my daughter was that age, social media was so much more prevalent and popular. Is this a result of growing up on screens?
I had this conversation with my daughter before this tragedy occurred. We were talking about anxiety and depression. She thinks that people her age and younger are much more open to getting treatment. And that they are more open to talking about mental illness. She doesn’t think social media is causing more young people to have depression or anxiety. She thinks the numbers are going up because more kids are getting treatment.
I tend to think it may be a combination of many factors, social media included, and her generation being more open to talk about mental health. I think I’m searching for a reason. Something to blame for the loss of this young man’s life.
What is your opinion? Do you think mental illness in teens and early 20-year-olds is increasing? Or are they more open to discussing it? What do you see as the causes?
I got a call from my daughter today who was extremely upset. It tears at my heart. I don’t think our kids truly understand how our hearts hurt when they they are suffering. The call reminded me that I wrote about this years ago when my son was close to finishing his college years and was going through a rough time.
Now it’s my daughter’s turn. I hope I was helpful on the phone. I hope she gets through this period of her life where she’s facing hurdles. All I can do is listen. Hopefully, it’s enough that she knows I love her.
This is what I wrote five years ago:
“You’re only as happy as your least happy child.” I heard a friend say this recently. I do believe it’s true. When you see your kids happy, you’re happy, too. When they are smiling and proud of their accomplishments or in love, we feel thrilled for them.
On the flip side, when they’re struggling, we have an ache in our hearts.
My son had a horrific last week of college, but managed to get through it alive. I got several phone calls where he wasn’t sure if he’d make it. He had five papers to write, plus finals, and I doubt he slept much.
I kept telling him using a swim race analogy, “You’re under the flags. Keep going. You can do it.”
I also received relieved phone calls as each hurdle was overcome. Today, he’s coming home for a brief stop before he starts his new life. I’m a worrier and I’m wondering how is he sleeping? How is he going to drive a U-Haul trailer with his worldly possessions up to his new life? How will he survive on his own?
My daughter was home for a week and it was a pure joy for me. She got me out of bed at 4:50 a.m. and drove me to swim practice. I loved the beauty of the early morning and the shifting lights in the water as the sun rose. By the time we were done, I felt elated. It wasn’t even 7 a.m. and I felt like I had accomplished so much. I hope to continue on with the early morning practices, although I must admit I’m back to my noon routine today. At least I’m going. Right?
Besides swimming, we hiked at the Tram, went shopping, got pedicures, went out to lunch and hung out together. The constant activity was different than my normal quiet writing days.
I love having my kids home. But, I’m proud they have their own lives and are ready to take on the world without me.
P.S. On the last morning, my daughter, husband and I took a walk. We noticed we had company. Olive the cat followed quietly a few feet behind us. We’d stop to look at her and she’d look the other way. Finally, we stopped several blocks away to admire an apricot standard poodle. Olive decided that was enough. She stopped for good. When we returned home, several miles later, Olive was nowhere to be found. I retraced our steps and called “Here kitty, kitty.” She leaped out of the bushes across the street from where we saw the poodle. She was terrified and confused. She wouldn’t let me touch her but after one pitiful “meow” she followed me. When she finally recognized our neighborhood, her tail went up and she jetted all the way to our house leaving me behind.
What are your thoughts about “You’re only as happy as your least happy child?” Do you think it’s true? Have you experienced sadness because your child is upset or unhappy?
Yesterday I wrote about Amy Osaka and her withdrawal from the French Open due to her taking care of her mental health. You can read that post here.
Immediately after I posted that story, I ran across a SwimSwam article about a swimmer retiring because of her mental health. I remember this swimmer because she was at the big meets in Southern California as one of the youngest, if not the youngest swimmer entered — and she was from Virginia! She was very fast, too. She held the national age group record for 11-12 years olds in the mile.
“Isabella Rongione announced the end of her competitive swimming career, opening up about her personal struggles and the need to put her mental health first.”
Rongione shared the news in an Instagram post this week. Her last swim came in December of 2018, the month before Rongione says he was admitted to treatment following a suicide attempt.
“My mental health had to be the priority over the past couple years and I never was able to fully commit to getting back into the pool,” Rongione writes.
“To all those athletes dealing with mental health issues — make sure to take the time you need in order to heal yourself properly.”
There are many famous athletes who suffer from depression including Michael Phelps, Amy Osaka, Allison Schmitt (Olympic swimmer) and Serena Williams. You can read about 10 of these athletes here. I wonder if it’s genetics or the pressure with being an athlete at such a young age?
My daughter who was a swimmer at a high level (college scholarship athlete and high school All American) suffered from anxiety and then depression while swimming in college. She swam competitively from age five through 22 — when her shoulder gave up on her.
Looking back, we were such enthusiastic parents cheerleading her swim career along the way. It was exciting and took over a lot of our family’s life. Did we create an unsustainable path for her? What happens when the swim career, the center of her world and identity ends? Or in the case of someone like Amy Osaka or Isabella Rongione, is the pressure to perform too much?
“Although moderate or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity is important in the prevention of and recovery from mental and physical health problems, when performed more intensely at ‘professional/elite’ levels, physical activity can compromise health.1,5Beyond the national prestige, fame and glory of Olympic success lies the darker side of overexposure to elite sport such as overtraining, injury, burnout, increased risk for sudden cardiac death and other non-cardiovascular conditions such as respiratory symptoms, iron deficiency, increased incidence of allergies, immunological suppression and infection, gastrointestinal symptoms, diabetes mellitus and eating disorders.6
“Athletes may also be vulnerable to mental illness for several reasons. First, the social world of many organised elite sports is one that requires investments of time and energy, often resulting in a loss of personal autonomy and disempowerment for athletes.7The elite-sport environment can result in ‘identity-foreclosure’ leaving athletes few other avenues through which to shape and reflect personality.7High athletic identity has been linked to psychological distress when this function of identity is removed, and to overtraining and athlete burnout.7The latter conditions strongly correlate with affective disorders such as major depressive disorder.”
I also read that 30% of NCAA athletes report having depression. It could have only gotten worse this past year.
What are your thoughts about athletes and depression? Do you think it’s genetics? Performance pressure? Or both?
Wearing masks during a family getaway to the mountains.
There’s an epidemic hitting our country and it’s felt especially among young adults ages 18 to 29. Depression and anxiety. In California, the rates of clinical depression have hit 44% since the Coronavirus shutdowns began. I have a friend who is a psychologist who works with teens and she’s seeing patient after patient contemplating suicide.
The World Health Organization no long recommends shutdowns as the best course of action to fight the global pandemic — even as we’re getting a spike in cases. But in addition to mental illness, the WHO is concerned that shut downs are making the poor even poorer.
Here’s an excerpt from USA Today written by John Bacon:
WHO discourages lockdowns as US hospitalizations climb; 11 states set records for new COVID-19 cases
Dr. David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on COVID-19, urged world leaders this week to stop “using lockdowns as your primary control method” for blunting a virus surge.
“We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” Nabarro told “The Spectator.” Nabarro said lockdowns can only be justified “to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted. But by and large, we’d rather not do it.”
In California, we’ve been sheltering in place since mid-March. During that time people are feeling isolated, alone and there’s an increase in substance abuse and mental illness. Here’s an excerpt from an article written by Phillip Reese in the Los Angeles Times:
Feeling anxious and depressed? In California, you’re right at home
It’s official, California: COVID-19 has left us sick with worry and increasingly depressed. And our youngest adults — those ages 18 to 29 — are feeling it the worst.
The U.S. at large has followed a similar pattern, with about 41% of adult respondents nationwide reporting symptoms of clinical anxiety or depression during the third week of July. By comparison, just 11% of American adults reported those symptoms in a similar survey conducted in early 2019.
The July responses showed a marked geographic variance. Residents of Western and Southern states, where the virus remains most virulent, registered greater mental distress, on average.
There are many reasons why young adults are seeing the largest increase in depression and anxiety during the shutdown. First, they aren’t able to be socially involved. Their worlds have been turned upside down being stuck in the house with their parents and away from their peers. Second, they are more open to talking about mental illness and are more willing to get help compared to the boomers or older generations. I believe that is a good thing and a glimmer of hope while we all soldier through this together.
It’s important to know the signs of depression and get your children help. Click here for a link to the National Institute of Mental Health to learn more about depression in teens and where to get help.
Last year we were climbing Coit Tower together on a trip to visit our kids.
Why do you think there is such a dramatic increase in depression and anxiety among teens and young adults?
I wrote this months before the pandemic hit and we began sheltering in place. Now that I’ve spent 109 days in my home without my normal activities of meeting friends for lunch, traveling, volunteering and hanging out with my swim friends, I’m learning that more and more people are suffering from anxiety and children are being hit the hardest. A friend of mine who is a psychologist for teens said she’s talking to a record number of kids who are talking about suicide. It puts a new perspective on our kids’ angst and anxiety.
I watched a video posted on Facebook by one of my children’s former swim coaches about millennials in the workforce and the problems they face. It really made me reflect about my own parenting and kids. There’s an increased number of kids in this age group with depression, committing suicide and overdosing. That’s terrifying, don’t you agree? What can be done about it? And why is it happening?
I hate that bullet point and know I’m guilty of some bad parenting myself. The main idea is that our kids were told they are special at every turn, whether it’s deserved or not. Consequently, millennials often suffer from low self esteem. While we’re trying to make our kids strong, mentally and physically, we’re doing something very wrong. We have highly educated, competent kids who don’t believe in themselves. Maybe everyone shouldn’t get a participation trophy in tee ball. It’s one of the reasons why I like swimming. Every mili-second dropped and ribbon received is truly earned. The clock doesn’t lie.
We were unplugged as a family every summer at the beach.
Checking our number of likes, texts, etc. give us a jolt of dopamine. That’s why we get addicted to our phones. Social media and cell phones are not much different than other highly addictive substances like tobacco or alcohol. When teenage brains are exposed to dopamine, they get hooked and their brains get hardwired. Hearing this part of the video makes me want to look at my own cell phone usage and make some changes—a good thing to think about for New Year’s Resolutions (I’ll write more about this later). Social media is preventing our kids from developing personal relationships and may lead to depression and being unable to handle stress.
THREE Instant Gratification
Our kids have grown up in the world of instant gratification. If they want to watch a movie, they turn on Netflix. If they want to buy something, they click on Amazon and it’s delivered the next day. I interviewed a psychologist and wrote about instant gratification here. Job satisfaction and relationships aren’t a click away. Instead they are messy and time consuming, but our kids aren’t learning these skills of waiting and working for things.
Maybe our corporate environments aren’t a good fit for young people. Our kids blame themselves when it could partially be the fault of the company they work for. Companies need to work extra hard to build the children’s social skills and work on their lack of confidence. We need to work on interpersonal relationships and one good way to start is to put the phone down.
What are your thoughts about millennials and their angst? Do you think it’s our fault they are suffering from depression and anxiety? Or, does the environment and technology play a bigger role?
Selfie of Mom and me playing BINGO. She is the best mom and my role model.
With all the evidence that more and more kids are suffering from anxiety and depression and with suicide rates skyrocketing, there is research that says smartphones may be making these trends worse. In a Time article by Markam Heid, “We Need to Talk About Kids and Smartphones” he shares these horrifying figures:
“Between 2010 and 2016, the number of adolescents who experienced at least one major depressive episode leapt by 60%, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 2016 survey of 17,000 kids found that about 13% of them had a major depressive episode, compared to 8% of the kids surveyed in 2010. Suicide deaths among people age 10 to 19 have also risen sharply, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young women are suffering most; a CDC report released earlier this year showed suicide among teen girls has reached 40-year highs. All this followed a period during the late-1990s and early 2000s when rates of adolescent depression and suicide mostly held steady or declined.”
In another article, “Is Your Kid Hooked on Smartphones? 5 Tips for Parents” Heid gives some great advice for parents who are concerned with their kids’ smartphone use. Here’s the abbreviated version. You can read his article in its entirety here.
Keep devices out of kids’ bedrooms. There is already strong data linking bedroom screen time with a variety of risks—particularly sleep loss, says David Hill, director of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Communication and Media.
Set up online firewalls and data cutoffs.
Most devices and Internet providers offer parenting tools that restrict access to illicit content and curb data use, and there are apps that do so as well.
Create a device contract. “This is something you create with your child that details rules around their device use,” says Yalda Uhls, an assistant adjunct professor at UCLA and author of Media Moms and Digital Dads. These rules could include no smartphones at the dinner table, or no more than an hour of social media use after school.
Model healthy device behaviors. Just as kids struggle to stay off their phones, so do parents. “We’re all, even adults, drawn to devices,” says UPenn’s Jensen. And if you’re a phone junkie yourself, you can’t expect your kids to be any different, she says.
Consider old-school flip phones for your kids, or a smartphone without a data plan (and therefore no Internet access). This may seem like overkill for some parents—especially those of older teens. But unconnected phones still allow teens to call or text with parents and friends, says Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of iGen.
I think the best thing to do is put down firm guidelines and don’t give in. I was strict with my kids about when they got their first cell phones and I bought them at Target as pay-as you-go phones. It wasn’t until my son’s high school graduation that he got an iPhone. My daughter got one a little sooner because they were much more common, but not until age 16.
Today, I’m the one addicted to my phone. I’m always reading stories, looking at Twitter, checking out FB, etc. My daughter gets so mad at me when we’re together and asks me to put the phone down. “I”m here with you now!” she’ll remind me. I worry a lot about the kids who are in the iGen with peer pressure following them wherever they are. Getting the smartphones and computers out of their bedrooms at night is a smart idea. Making a weekend or week to unplug as a family is a plan, too. It’s such a different world, isn’t it, from when we grew up?
What rules do you have for your kid’s smartphone use?
Me not on my iPhone–being in the moment with my daughter.
Missy Franklin with the freshman Lady Utes at PAC 12s 2015.
In a sports conference for young women called LEAD Summit held in Austin, TX, Missy Franklin opened up about her struggles with mental illness. For those who don’t follow the Olympics, Missy is a five-time gold medalist and swimming superstar. At the summit, she was asked to talk about perseverance.
She said her favorite definition for perseverance was “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” In a “Gold Medal Minute” video produced by Mel Stewart, two-time gold medalist and founder of SwimSwam.com, he interviewed Missy. I urge you to take the time to listen to what Missy has to say and the journey she shares. As Stewart described it, “Missy went deep sharing some raw and personal history. Two months before the Olympic Trials last year, Missy was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, insomnia and an eating disorder when she was hitting a low while sports fans and the world were expecting her to rise up.”
Watch “MISSY FRANKLIN BATTLES BACK FROM DEPRESSION: GMM PRESENTED BY SWIMOUTLET.COM” here.
Missy explains how her definition of perseverance has changed from 2012, 2013, and 2014 when she said it was “shallow.” She thought perseverance was coming out at the other end successful and that at that time in her life “everything came with so much ease.”
She has some poignant words about success and what it means to her. “Your Definition of success is going to change and you need to let it,” Missy said. “That is the only definition that matters because you’re constantly going to have people in your life telling you what it means to be successful. And that is different for every single person. If you’re not striving for your own version of success, you’re never going to be happy or fulfilled.”
To find out more about LEAD Summit visit their website. “Founded in 2017 by 3-time Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce, the LEAD (Leadership, Empowerment, & Athletic Development) Sports Summit provides teenage female swimmers ages, 13-18, the opportunity to learn leadership and communication skills from an accomplished group of female Olympians and mentors over the course of a three-day summit.”
In an article from the Salt Lake Tribune called, “There’s always help’: Whittingham’s son praised for going public about his depression,” the head coach of the University of Utah football team Kyle Whittingham talks about how proud he is of his son, who plays football for the Utes. Here are a few excerpts.
“There were years of pain and anguish as he (Alex Whittingham) dealt with the effects of anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). “Fighting through a storm cloud” is how he described it. And that cloud was on the 24-year-old’s mind this summer when he opened up an application on his iPhone and decided to open up to the world.
“Kyle Whittingham’s son is many things. He is a goofball around his friends and teammates. He is a drummer in a rock band. He is a self-proclaimed Beatles trivia expert. But he is generally not a public person, so his decision to share his story took his father aback.
“ ‘That was a little out of character for him,’ Kyle Whittingham said. ‘He’s a fairly private person, and that did surprise me. It caught me a little bit off guard when he did that, but, like I said, he has very strong convictions, and obviously, that was something he felt like he needed to do.’
“The choice made the father proud.
“Kyle calls them ‘hard times’ for the Whittingham family. The moments when a parent is helpless and can’t provide the absolute most for his or her child are the ones that don’t ever disappear.
“ ‘As a parent, you’re only as happy as your most unhappy child,’ Whittingham said. ‘That old adage is very true. You go through it right there with him. You feel the pain. It’s hard, it’s frustrating.’ ”
In USA Today, an article called “When athletes share their battles with mental illness” written by Scott Gleeson and Erik Brady, they interview eight sports stars including Jerry West, Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt.
Michael Phelps with local high school swimmers at a banquet where he was the keynote speaker.
“ROUGHLY ONE IN FIVE AMERICAN ADULTS SUFFER FROM MENTAL ILLNESSES. ATHLETES MIGHT BE MORE AT RISK. HERE, EIGHT OF THEM TELL THEIR AUTHENTIC STORIES.”
“Michael Phelps locked himself in his bedroom for four days three years ago. He’d been arrested a second time for DUI. He was despondent and adrift. He thought about suicide.
“I didn’t want to be alive,” he tells USA TODAY Sports. “I didn’t want to see anyone else. I didn’t want to see another day.”
“Family and friends — “a life-saving support group,” Phelps calls them — urged him to seek professional help. He got it. And now he wants others who are suffering from mental health issues to find the help they need.
“Some will scoff at this. Phelps is the golden boy of the Olympic Games. Fame and fortune are his. Really, what could be so bad in his life?
“That is never the right question. People from all walks of life suffer from a range of mental illnesses. Roughly 44 million Americans experienced some form of mental illness in 2015 (the most recent year for which numbers are available), according to estimates by the National Institute of Mental Health. That’s nearly one in five people aged 18 or over.”
After reading and listening to the stories of these athletes, I wondered if athletics is somehow connected to mental illness. According to the article in USA Today it is.
“Athletes may be at increased risk, according to research by Lynette Hughes and Gerard Leavey of the Northern Ireland Association of Mental Health, who found that factors such as injuries, competitive failure and overtraining can lead to psychological distress. An NCAA survey of athletes found over the course of a year that 30% reported feeling depressed while half said they experienced high levels of anxiety.
“Brent Walker, associate athletic director for championship performance at Columbia University, says he didn’t want to deal with the mental health side of performance when he began working in the field. Now, he says, “it is difficult to separate the mental health piece from the performance side of it.”
In my own family, we have struggled with mental illness, including my mother and several other family members. One of the concerns with mental illness is to alleviate stigma. People may not reach out for needed help because they’re afraid of what people will think of them. I am so moved by reading the stories of young and old athletes alike who are in the public eye and sharing their stories. They may not know it, but they are helping and touching someone. We need to understand that depression is not something that a person “can snap out of” and it’s not caused by being weak.
What are your thoughts of these athletes making their struggles with mental illness public?