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  • Writer's pictureDawn Helmrich

My Son’s Struggle With Social Anxiety and the Difficulty of Getting Help

Updated: May 22

Text with headshot of Dawn Helmrich. Headline: "Shining Light on Shadows: My Son’s Struggle With Social Anxiety and the Difficulty of Getting Help" Text: "One day, my son told me, the world was not set up for kids like him.  Kids that have social anxiety."

I think my son was 12 or 13, a new middle schooler, when I realized that he was more than just a kid having a bad day at school. I found him curled up in a ball on the floor of his room, unable to speak to me, unable to tell me what was going on. I laid on the floor next to him because it was the only thing I could think of doing at that moment.

Once he was ready, he said something to me that completely changed the way I viewed his world. He explained that the world was not set up for kids like him. Kids that have social anxiety (and yes, he used those words, he had done his research to find out why he was feeling the way he was). He said that classrooms and sports and organized clubs are for kids that don’t have full-on panic attacks when they are around other people.


I discussed my journey as the parent of a child with social anxiety disorder and the challenges of finding adequate care on a new show that I launched with Neil Parekh, “Shining Light on Shadows: A Candid Conversation About Mental Health.” Kate Easton was our guest. She also shared her experience as the parent of a child with bipoloar disorder.

You can watch the recording on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Neil’s website.


Not having experienced things like that I didn’t even realize that his world was full of chaos, chaos that was difficult for him to process. That explanation helped me learn that all those years I forced him to try every sport and every club was pure torture for him. He did much better trying things that he enjoyed on his own and at his own pace. He liked nature and plants and exploring things in his own way, in his own time and on his own terms. What we had seen as him not committing to doing anything, was really him knowing his limitations and self-regulating. He was doing what he could when he could.

The second mistake we made was not doing anything about this realization other than not pushing him to do things he didn’t want to do. I didn’t try to get him help with these feelings, other than forcing him to see a behavioral therapist, which wasn’t helpful. He was such a self-aware kid and seemed to be managing things on his own, but I never asked him what he needed. Although I am not sure it would have been fair to ask him, if he wasn’t really sure himself, but I should have asked.

As he got older the anxiety became worse and serious depression set in. By that time I was struggling with finding him help. I continued to try to get help through therapy with a counselor, but as my son often stated it was very hard for him to even articulate to us what was going on, having to talk with a stranger was near impossible. He knew that he needed medication, and we were scrambling to find a psychiatrist to help us diagnose him.

During that time, I was scared to death. I was scared for his life; he was so isolated and non-communicative that I really didn’t know what was going on. There was a waiting list of 9 months before he could be seen by anyone, and I feared that it would be too late. This kid needed help ASAP. Luckily, I had rock star insurance and a very good primary care physician that was willing to prescribe him medication to try and help address his depression and anxiety.

That alone was scary, getting the correct combinations of medicine is a tricky business and a lot of these medications have pretty hefty side effects. There were so many times that he was either sick to his stomach and throwing up or he felt so incredibly weird and not himself that he didn’t even want to take the medication. Stopping the medication was even worse since once he had been on something for a while, he would have to wean off of it before he could try a new medication. After that, the process would start all over again.

When we were finally able to meet with a psychiatrist, and my son was properly diagnosed, we were very hopeful that we would find a good combination of medicines. After several attempts, we did. By that time the pandemic had hit he was in his senior year of high school. Being a very smart kid he knew that he could not go off to college in the state he was in. He needed time to work on his mental health and try to find ways to cope with his diagnosis.

He decided to take a year off of school and take care of himself. I never doubted him after he was about 15. This kid knew exactly what he needed and he knew how to take care of himself. Even though it was really hard for him, he worked on ways to tackle all of his mental health concerns. He works on it every day. He’s almost 22 now and he’s still working on it.

The system is not set up to serve kids who experience mental health crises like my son did. Parents are not educated about what to do when their child presents with mental health concerns. Schools are not equipped with the proper resources and often just think that these kids have behavioral problems or blame the parents for not parenting properly.

Luckily, my son was a good kid with good grades and no behavior issues in school, so he was able to literally fake it until he made it. When I asked him if I could talk about his story, he said yes enthusiastically. He is very open about his mental health challenges and thinks that it’s important to talk about mental health and make others aware of the types of things that people face on a daily basis.

He still takes medication and probably will for the rest of his life. It helps regulate him and helps him feel better. He graduated from college last year with honors, was on the dean’s list and accepted into the National Honor Society. His degree is in horticulture. He works in his chosen field and finds that plants are the best therapy he knows.

He has taught me a lot about being open and honest with your emotions and feelings and never ceases to amaze me with how he conquers all that life throws at him. I am very proud that I can talk about him, share his story and do what I can to reduce the stigma of mental health.

Title Card for Show. Text and headshots of the co-hosts and guest. Headline: "Shining Light on Shadows: A Candid Conversation About Mental Health" Copy: "Ep. 7 Kate Easton Parenting a Child with Mental Health Challenges Thurs., May 9 7pm ET / 6pm CT / 4pm PT"


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