If you think your teenager is depressed, you might be overwhelmed and frightened. Approximately 1 in 5 teens suffers from depression at some point during their youth. Some of these teens go on to commit suicide, which is a leading cause of death for young people under the age of 24. The good news is that there are effective treatments for depression. Also, if you have a depressed loved one in your life, there are some things you can do to help them get through it. Read on to find out seven ways to help a depressed teen.
1. Know the Symptoms of a Depressed Teen
Knowing the difference between mild “blues” and depression is important if you want to help someone who is suffering. While everyone feels sad from time to time, someone with depression will feel strong negative feelings (sadness, guilt, hopelessness, worthlessness) for a period of two weeks or more. Sometimes depression comes with physical symptoms. These can include:
- digestive difficulties
- muscle aches
- other aches and pains
Sometimes depression symptoms begin during or after a traumatic event, such as the loss of a loved one or a romantic breakup. Other times, they begin during a stressful time, like when a teen gets a new part-time job or is in the middle of final exams. Many times, however, depression begins for seemingly no reason. Just because nothing is obviously wrong in your teen’s life, that doesn’t mean that they cannot develop depression.
2. Know the Suicide Warning Signs
The biggest danger of depression is that it will cause your teen to become suicidal. Knowing the signs of suicidal ideation can literally save your teenager’s life. If your teen becomes very isolated and refuses to engage with others, this can be a sign that the depression is severe and might lead to a suicide attempt. Other symptoms can include talking about death, putting their affairs in order (contacting relatives and friends they’ve lost contact with), saying that they wish they were dead, and talking about how things will be better once they’re no longer a burden.
If your teen or anyone else is showing signs of being suicidal, get them help promptly. If they’re in immediate danger, call 911 or take them to the emergency room. You can also call the National Suicide Lifeline.
3. Simply Listen Without Lecturing
If you have a depressed teen, simply letting them know that you’re there to listen can be very helpful. Acknowledge their feelings and don’t pass judgment on what they’re saying. Don’t tell them that they have nothing to be depressed about or that they’re just feeling sorry for themselves. Remember that depression is a mental health issue, not a behavioral issue. If your teen doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you, try to get them to talk to a counselor, a staff member at their school, a coach, an aunt or uncle, or someone else who can listen and be there for your teen.
4. Encourage Social Interaction
Depression often makes people want to withdraw, but withdrawing can make depression worse. While you should not force your teen to leave the house and have some social interaction, encouragement is helpful. You can also suggest that your teen invite friends over; sometimes having a friend over to watch a movie or just to talk is easier than getting ready and leaving the house.
Having a routine that includes regular outings can help. If every Wednesday night your teen goes bowling and every Saturday his or her best friend comes over to play board games, that is something they can look forward to and doesn’t involve much planning or extra stress.
5. Encourage Lifestyle Changes
There are some lifestyle changes that can help a depressed teen.
Sleep – One is getting enough sleep. Most teens are sleep-deprived, and depression can cause insomnia, which makes the situation worse. If you can help your teen get the sleep he or she needs, you might notice a decrease in symptoms.
Exercise – Another change is getting enough exercise. Just going for a walk each day can make a difference. The CDC recommends that young people get an hour of exercise each day. Encourage your teen to walk instead of riding when possible. Also, make it a family affair to go for a walk and to do active things. You might start seeing your teen’s mood lift on days they exercise.
6. Seek Professional Help
If you believe your teen is depressed, it’s important to seek help for them. Start with the family physician; they can evaluate your teen’s symptoms and determine whether they could be coming from a physical cause. Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid disorders and chronic fatigue syndrome, can have symptoms that are similar to depression. Blood work might be in order. If the doctor rules out physical causes, your teen will likely be referred to a mental health care professional for treatment with therapy and/or medication.
7. Practice Self-Care for You
Taking care of someone who has depression can be overwhelming, stressful, and frustrating. Practice self-care by making sure you’re eating well, sleeping enough, and getting some exercise and fresh air each day. Also, don’t be afraid to seek counseling or a support group for yourself. Having trusted people to talk to about your teen’s struggles can help you care for your teen better. Just as you are instructed to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others on an airplane, you need to be sure that you are physically and mentally strong enough to support your depressed teen.
If you are concerned that your teen has depression, talk to them about their symptoms. Encourage a healthy lifestyle and social interaction and seek professional help if you are worried or if the symptoms don’t go away within a couple of weeks. Don’t forget to care for yourself during this time, too. With proper treatment, your depressed teen will be feeling better soon and will be able to look forward to the rest of his or her life.