If your teen is depressed, you might feel overwhelmed and confused. What should you do? How can you best support him or her? As your teenager’s parent, you are in the position to be a steady influence and get the help that they need. Read on to find out how to help a teen who is dealing with depression.
Know the Signs and Symptoms of Depression
First, is your teen depressed or simply going through what some call “the blues”? It is important to know the signs and symptoms of depression as well as to understand when a low mood is more than general moodiness or just the result of a bad day. The symptoms of depression include
- Sadness or discouragement that lasts two weeks or that interferes with daily life
- Feelings of guilt or hopelessness
- Loss of interest in activities that they once enjoyed
- Isolation, not wanting to leave their bedroom to interact with others
- Frequent crying or angry outbursts
- Sleeping too much or not sleeping enough (insomnia)
- Changes in appetite (can be eating too little or too much)
- Moving slowly, not getting anything accomplished
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempt
Depression doesn’t just go away after a day or two; it’s a condition that lasts for a while and can get worse. That is not to say that your depressed teen won’t sometimes have good moments or even good days here and there. But understand that moodiness or a few days of being in a bad mood is not the same as depression. There are ways to help a teen dealing with depression.
Talk to Your Teen
The best way to get to the bottom of what’s going on is to talk to your teenager. Be aware that they might try to hide their feelings, though. You can talk about the signs of depression and see if they apply. You can also ask questions about how they are feeling and what they think might make them feel better.
You might be surprised to find out that your teen is depressed. It might also come as a shock if your teen shares that they have considered suicide. Don’t be afraid to bring up these topics; while some parents think that discussing suicide or self-harm will put ideas into their teen’s head and make them want to attempt suicide, the opposite is actually true. Dealing with depression is tough but talking about these difficult topics can bring your teen relief and reduce the chances that they will harm themselves.
Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle
There are some lifestyle changes that your teen can make that might be very effective against mild depression. The one that can make the biggest difference is exercise. In fact, exercise has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants for individuals with mild to moderate depression. Since exercise does not have the side effects that antidepressants have, particularly in teenagers, it is a great first step toward helping your teen to feel better.
Encourage them to weave exercise into their day. If trying out for a sports team or joining a gym seems too overwhelming, simply encourage a daily walk. Try to get your teen to work up to exercising 30 to 60 minutes per day. This is good for his or her physical as well as mental health. You can go with them and turn that into quality talking time; invite them along on a walk after dinner, for example.
Another lifestyle issue that many teens struggle with is a lack of sleep, which depression can exacerbate. Most teens are sleep-deficient, and this deficiency can actually cause depression. Make sure your teen is getting enough rest. It might come down to you needing to turn off the wifi and take their smartphone at a certain time to allow them to wind down and go to sleep. You might also need to consult with a doctor about their insomnia.
Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of a healthy diet. Teenagers often turn to foods that are full of fat, salt, and sugar when they are hungry. These can make them feel more run-down and less energetic. Encourage your adolescent to eat more fruits, vegetables, lean sources of protein, and whole grains. While you probably won’t get them to eliminate junk foods altogether, you can tip the nutritional odds in their favor by providing plenty of healthy foods and limiting the amount of chips, candy, soda, and other empty calories that you buy.
Be Aware of the Signs of Suicidal Ideation
The most severe and dangerous effect of depression is suicide. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young people, and it is easily every parent’s worst nightmare. If your teenager is giving away prized items, seems obsessed with death, hints that things will be easier “when I’m gone,” or otherwise behaving in a way that makes you concerned that they might be contemplating or planning suicide, talk to them about their feelings. If your teen seems to be in imminent danger, take them to the emergency room. If they are thinking about suicide but are not in immediate danger, make an appointment with a mental health specialist who can help them get through this difficulty.
Dealing With Depression and Where to Seek Help
While lifestyle changes and talking to a supportive parent can be helpful for a teen who is dealing with mild depression, sometimes professional intervention is needed. Take your teen to his or her primary care physician to be screened for clinical depression. From there they might be referred to a mental health professional for treatment.
Treatments include counseling, which can take the form of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, or other types of therapies. Some teens will need inpatient care. If your teen is suicidal, they might need to be hospitalized temporarily. In some cases, medication is needed. Be aware of the benefits and risks of the medications and talk to the doctor about your concerns. Be sure to follow the directions precisely and to report any side effects.
You can help your teen dealing with depression. It might be a long road, but with you by their side, they will know that they can get the help they need to get past this condition and move on with the rest of their life.