As a parent, you want your son or daughter to be happy. You want your teen to be mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy. When they’re not, it’s easy to want to jump to solutions. It’s easy to want a quick fix so that your teen is well again.
Yet, depression is different. In fact, mental illness in general is not a condition that you can simply put a band-aid on and forget about it. Mental illness requires attention, care, love, and work. Yes, believe it or not, it requires effort to heal from a mental illness, such as depression. As a parent, you can help your teen overcome depression with some measured and meaningful action. Here’s five ways to get you started:
1. Look for signs of depression in your teen
If you already suspect that your teen is depressed, then there’s a good chance they are. However, in rare occasions, teens might not be depressed but simply down in the dumps. To be sure, be on the lookout for these signs
- loss of interest in activities
- social withdrawal
- suicidal thoughts
- poor concentration
- poor memory
- poor hygiene
- slow thinking
- loss of motivation
- insomnia or hypersomnia
- weight loss or gain
- body aches
2. Strengthen your relationship with your teen
Whether you see the above signs or not, strengthening your relationship with your teen will support them regardless. Teens go through big changes during adolescence, and having you close by can be psychologically encouraging for them. If you are seeing the above signs, then there’s more of a reason to emotionally support them. If you want to give your parent-teen relationship a boost, here are some tips:
- Listen to them closely when they’re sharing their life with you
- Avoid being judgmental or punitive
- Be empathetic and think about how you might feel if you were in their shoes
- Avoid wanting to tell them to “get over it” or minimizing their experience in any way
- Validate your teen’s feelings (i.e. “It looks like you’ve been feeling sad lately. Is that true?)
- Try to understand your teen
- Connect with your teen emotionally
- Make a date with your teen to do something together that they enjoy
- Communicate to your teen that you’re available to talk about anything
By listening closely to your teen, you let them know that you understand and that you see them. This alone can be incredibly supportive. Frequently, what those who are depressed need is emotional connection and the kindness of someone close to them.
3. Look for the positive and praise your teen generously
If your teen is depressed, they will welcome praise when it’s offered. Depression often comes with feeling guilty, ashamed, sad, lonely, anxious, and confused. When you give your teen praise, you highlight a detail in their life and you help them shine a bit more. You also let your teen know that you’re noticing, that you care, and that you love them. Teens who are depressed need you to highlight the positive because they are so frequently focused on the negative.
4. Have your teen assessed by a mental health professional.
If you suspect depression in your teen, it’s a good idea to have them seen by a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Most parents don’t know enough about the mental health condition to know what to do if they suspect their teen might be depressed. For this reason, it’s best to have your teen assessed by a mental health professional so that you can learn about how to prevent depression as well as how to help your teen overcome depression. Here are some additional reasons for having your teen see a mental health professional:
There is no typical picture of depression. Not all depressed teens look alike. You may notice classic symptoms in your teen, such as those listed above. Or, you might see unique symptoms of depression in your teen. For instance, your teen might refuse to shower or use substances to feel better.
Depression is a progressive illness. Depression that is not treated can get worse over time. In fact, many suicides are the result of untreated depression. When teens are not given medication to stabilize their mood, tools to manage their thinking, and support, all of which come with treatment, their depression might get worse.
Depression is treatable. With treatment, a teen’s mood can stabilize and over time they can return to a healthy level of functioning.
Going to a mental health professional will also be an educational experience. You and your teen might learn more about depression, how to prevent it, and what you can do to manage the illness.
5. Talk to your teen about coping tools to help overcome depression.
Working with a therapist, your teen is sure to learn about coping tools. Regardless of whether your teen continues to see a mental health professional, you can encourage your teen to use coping tools to overcome depression and stay emotionally balanced. The following are great ways to stay emotionally healthy:
- Enjoying time with family and friends
- Spending time with those who are uplifting
- Painting, writing, dancing or other forms of creativity
- Having a daily schedule (for routine and stability)
- Exploring passions
- Thinking about goals for the future
As a parent you can not only encourage your teen to practice these healthy activities, you can also join them. In fact, having a weekly or monthly time for self-care and relaxation together can support your teen’s emotional health. Also, by doing these sort of activities together you send the message to your teen that these activities are important. You model for your teen the importance of emotional and psychological health.
Lastly, if you have a depressed teen at home, then you’re likely going to need to take good care of yourself too. You’re going to have to stay positive to help your teen overcome depression and guide them into a lighter experience of life.