Many outsiders would look at Chiara de Blasio, the 19-year-old daughter of newly elected New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, and see a young woman with a completely charmed life. A recent fashion spread in a well-known teen magazine does little to dispel that image of a magical existence.
Fashion mavens may argue about her style, but few could dispute her honesty. In a video released by her father’s campaign last month, Chiara’s struggles with depression and substance abuse, which began in her teenage years, add a sobering reality to what it means to be a first family.
She details her difficulties with fitting in and self-esteem, and the need to self-medicate with marijuana and alcohol. Describing how her mental state impacted her academic and social progress, she offers wise advice to others, stating: "If you're suffering...getting sober is always a positive thing...It's the hardest thing I've ever done, but it's so worth it.”
Mental health issues can be present in any family. Being an elected official doesn’t exempt one from them. What's most important, however, is a family's reaction to the problem, which can make the difference between a person's shying away from treatment and their embracing it.
Chiara's openness may help break the stigma associated with mental illness and seeking the appropriate treatment. By simply telling her story, she potentially can help so many others.
As parents, we try to protect our children as much as possible. However, there are times when silence is not productive. Instead, it can reinforce negative behaviors by not addressing them. We can all learn from the example set by the de Blasios.
If your child is struggling with similar issues:
Support your teenager. Be open to their getting a professional assessment and treatment. They may be resistant, but purposefully and gently push for treatment. Talk to other families. Many families feel like they're the only ones going through challenging times. You are not. Talk to your health care professional about support groups.
Look at the big picture. Staying sober is a lifelong journey. Buckle up and be prepared for the peaks and valleys. Celebrate successes while being mindful of a blueprint.
Share your struggle. Breaking the silence about issues like depression and substance abuse can assist others in getting help. I applaud the de Blasio family for sharing their story—and hope more families do the same.
Is there someone in your life who could benefit from getting support for substance abuse? Post a comment below and tell us how you plan to approach them about this and offer them help.