What you don’t expect a child psychiatrist to say to your son:
“What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you work as hard as your sister? Why are you so lazy? You just need to try harder.”
“Trying harder” is harder than you think when you suffer from a mental health disease. There is stuff going on in your brain during a severe depressive episode that seriously hinders personal motivation. It’s not even a question about will power.
Telling a clinically depressed teenager to try harder is like telling a person on a bike with a flat tire to peddle faster uphill.
We tell kids with undiagnosed mental health diseases that whatever is the problem, they need to fix it. Then, we punish them when they can’t fix it on their own. Still bringing home the D’s and F’s, sleeping instead of doing homework, then we better fix it with discipline or better parenting.
So when my worried mom took my depressed brother in for a psych evaluation, trying to be a responsible parent, the last thing she expected was the “try harder” lecture.
In the doctor’s office that day, my brother’s head sunk lower and lower and my mom’s heart beat faster and faster. It was all she could do to stay seated and not walk out. Now many decades later, her voice trembles to talk of that day.
I think about the difference that the doctor could have made that day in our family’s life if he had said something else. The doctor missed an opportunity to provide healing to young person. He missed an opportunity to educate a distressed parent on how to best support her sick son.
When future doctors pledge to “do no harm,” I hope they will think about my brother and people like him who suffer from mental health diseases. Giving the “try harder” lecture is a violation of this oath.