There’s a saying that goes, “A parent is only as happy as his or her least happy child.” If you are the parent of a teen with depression, you know how true this is. Depression in a child or teenager can make you feel helpless, hopeless, and frightened. Even more difficult, you try not to let those feelings show when you are interacting with your adolescent. The good news is there are steps that you can take to help your teen manage depression and lead a healthy life. Read on to learn how you can help your teen with managing depression.
Know the Signs of Depression
It can be hard to know whether your teen is depressed or just dealing with normal adolescent mood swings. Most teenagers who are not depressed still have days when they feel down. Also, many teens can go from happy to angry to sad in the course of a few hours (or, in some cases, a few minutes!). Knowing the signs and symptoms of depression can help you understand whether you need to just wait it out (in the case of mood swings) or take some type of action (in the case of depression).
The signs and symptoms of depression in teens include:
- Sadness, hopelessness, guilt, or other negative emotions that last two weeks or more.
- Not being able to get out of bed in the morning, sleeping too much.
- Insomnia or sleeping very little.
- An overwhelming sense of fatigue.
- Overeating or not having an appetite.
- Isolation, staying in his or her bedroom, refusing to interact with or visit friends.
- A loss of interest in activities, people, and things they once enjoyed.
- Lack of interest in schoolwork, failing classes uncharacteristically.
- Suicidal talk or ideation.
Talk to Your Teen
Simply talking to your teen about how he or she is feeling can foster open communication, which, in turn, can help your teen want to pursue treatment for the depression. Be aware that depression is based on what’s going on in your teen’s mind, not the reality of a specific situation. So while it might be true that your teen has no outward problems, this does not mean that he or she cannot develop depression.
State your observations without judgment. For example, you might say, “It seems like you’ve been pretty sad lately. Do you want to talk about it?” This tells your teen that you’re curious and concerned. If your teen doesn’t want to talk, let him or her know that you are there if and when they change their mind.
One caveat: Don’t offer unsolicited solutions to your teen’s problems. Most likely, he or she just wants a listening ear.
Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle
While you shouldn’t try to fix your teen’s problems, it is important to encourage him or her to pursue healthy habits. Self-care is very important when it comes to managing depression, so talk to your teen about ways they can take charge of their physical health. Better mental health might follow.
Sleep: Most adolescents need about nine hours of sleep each night. If your teen is dealing with insomnia, he or she might be sleep-deprived. Depression can cause insomnia, but the flip side is that sleep-deprivation can exacerbate depression. Encourage your teen to practice good sleep hygiene, to limit staring at screens that emit blue light (such as phones and laptops) before bed, and to go to bed early enough to get their recommended nine hours of sleep. Your teen’s doctor can help if they can’t get to sleep easily.
Exercise: Studies have shown that daily exercise can reduce symptoms of depression. If your teen isn’t taking a daily physical education class or isn’t involved with a sport, invite him or her to go for a walk with you or to join you at the gym. Of course, there are other options, as well; just encourage them to get some exercise each day.
Diet: In addition, cutting back on junk food and focusing on getting all of the nutrients needed for good health through the diet can help.
Seek Mental Health Treatment for Your Teen
Although managing depression can sometimes be done by making a few healthy lifestyle changes, it’s important for your teen to be evaluated by a professional. There are various types of depression, and what works for one teen won’t work for another. Also, since depression can lead to suicidal ideation and even an attempted or completed suicide, seeking mental health care can help prevent these complications.
Start with your teen’s physician. Since there are physical illnesses that can, at times, mimic depression, it’s helpful for those to be confirmed or ruled out. That doctor can refer your teen to an appropriate mental health care provider if needed. Treatment options for depression might include:
Be sure to discuss your concerns with the practitioner.
If your teen refuses to get help with managing depression, it’s best not to try to force him or her. Recovering from depression requires the person to be a willing participant in his or her care. If your teen isn’t willing, then the treatment likely won’t help anyway. Encourage your teen to seek help and try to keep the lines of communication open.
If your teen is showing immediate signs of being suicidal, however, that’s a different story: In that case, contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or calling for emergency services is warranted. The doctors at your local emergency room can help your teen get past a mental health crisis that is causing him or her to threaten suicide. It’s also important that you get yourself help, too; being the caregiver of a child with severe depression is exhausting and stressful.
Talking to your teen about his or her feelings, encouraging a healthy lifestyle, and seeking help when needed will go a long way toward making your teen feel supported as he or she battles depression. Take consolation in the fact that depression is generally not a lifelong condition; your teen can learn methods of managing depression and go on to live a healthy, happy, fulfilling life.