It’s very common for parents to dismiss depression as a normal experience of adolescence. Depression often disguises itself as normal mood swings that come with puberty, physical growth, and psychological development. So, although depression might be an underlying disorder, it’s often ignored. Sadly, depression tends to get attention when the circumstances go from bad to worse such as in the case of suicide. Or when a teen engages in risky behavior as a way to escape from his or her difficult inner feelings and he or she gets into trouble. These are circumstances in which depression makes itself known.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Although this disorder comes with a social stigma, you can prevent the severe consequences of untreated depression by taking the following five steps:
Talk with your teen about your concerns. Xavier Amador is a clinical psychologist, professor at Columbia University, and Director of the LEAP Institute. He is also the author of I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help! How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Accept Treatment. Although your teen may not be resisting depression treatment, he or she might know how to express their feelings. It might be difficult to admit that they feel depressed. Of course, this is not true for all teens, but for those who have trouble communicating, Amador recommends that parents LEAP. The acronym LEAP stands for Listen, Empathize, Agree, and Partner.
First, listen to your teen on many levels. Listen for what he or she is communicating underneath the words. If you really listen, your child will feel heard and understood, and with that, he or she may feel safer to discuss difficult feelings. Once you’ve heard what your child has to say, empathize with your teen. Try to deeply understand and feel the reasons behind your child’s feelings. Now that you are beginning to see what it’s like for your teen, now is the time to find some common ground. Discuss the shared goals, such as health and well being, that might lead to partnering in taking action. Once you find the places where you overlap and you have established some shared goals, you can partner on how to get the resources you need.
Make an appointment with your teen’s physical doctor. There might be a physical reason for your teen’s symptoms. Some of the symptoms of depression, such as lack of concentration, low energy, and sleep disturbance might be the result of a physical disorder. It’s important to assess whether it is a physical or psychological reason behind the symptoms your child is experiencing.
Check your teen’s family medical history. Depression and other mood disorders have a genetic component. It would be important to know whether there are incidences of depression in your family history. This information would be important to take to the therapist or psychologist you take your teen to.
Make an appointment to see a psychologist or therapist. Taking your child to a mental health professional is an essential step in ensuring your teen’s psychological health. A therapist and psychologist will likely ask critical questions as well as have your child fill out assessment forms. The answers to both of these will lead to a diagnosis. Then, with an accurate diagnosis, the appropriate treatment plan can be developed. A treatment plan includes the unique needs of your teen as well as the forms of treatment (medication, individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and others) that will best improve his or her level of functioning. It might also take into consideration the needs of the family, the severity of the depression, and your teen’s willingness towards participating in treatment.
Do your best to keep your teen’s privacy. Sharing your concerns with relatives might feel like the right thing to do, especially if you’re used to sharing the events of your life with them. However, it’s important to respect your teen’s emotional and psychological life. Violating their privacy might only exacerbate their emotional turmoil. Leave the option of sharing this experience with friends and family up to your teen.
These are not easy steps. Yet, moving through this process can indeed save your child’s life. Many parents of teens who have attempted suicide were not aware of their children’s depressed state. Talking to your child how about he or she feels is an important first step.