It’s Okay to Help a Friend with Teen Anxiety

Often, we think that anxiety is being nervous from time to time. Or that it’s feeling anxious before getting up in front of the class or anxious when in enclosed spaces. But the psychological illness of anxiety is a bit more than this. And for teens, anxiety can be ruining.

If you have a friend who experiences teen anxiety or depression, there are many ways that you can be there for them. First, your presence alone is meaningful. Secondly, when you stay with a friend, extend your support; you send the message that you are there for them despite the anxiety. Because, if you can see your friend underneath the illness, he or she will love you for it.

It’s easy to judge others for the illnesses that they have. It’s a bit easier to see a person for who they are despite a medical disorder, but with a psychological disorder, there’s a tendency to make the person the illness. Joan is depressed. Sammy is psychotic. Whereas with medical illness, we say Joan has strep throat, or Sammy has the chicken pox. So, if you can see your friend beneath the anxiety, that alone is a gift.

And your friend could likely use your support. Teens who are anxious experience life differently. They might perceive the world around them with fear, respond to life with more worry, and dread a looming sense of uncertainty. Anxious teens might find it hard when a parent or teacher says, “Calm down”. It might trigger frustration and exacerbate an anxious state. It’s like telling a child not to eat the candy that’s right in front of them. Of course, they are going to do exactly the opposite.  Instead, teens need the opportunity to express their anxiety, to give voice to their fears. The phrase, “Calm down,” tends to make worse those emotions that are already repressed, which contributes to anxiety and depression.

If you’re willing, you might want to provide a listening ear. You may want to acknowledge the challenges your friend is having and let them know you’re there for them.

There are various forms of mental illnesses that are anxiety-related. However, a common one is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a diagnosis given to those who experience excessive and irrational worry for at least six months. The excessive anxiety interferes with the ability to function and usually consists of extreme anxiety for everyday matters. What’s interesting about this disorder is that those who suffer from it will have difficulty putting their finger on the source of anxiety, fear, or worry. Yet, their experience of teen anxiety is persistent and chronic. It’s a kind of anxiety that can be debilitating and deadening at times.

In fact, teen anxiety can be so debilitating that it can bring life down. Anxious teens are more vulnerable to depression. Anxiety and depression are closely related. Often, underneath anxiety is depression, including underlying emotions that have been directed inward, such as anger and shame. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is another common mental illness among teens.

But if you’re helping your friend, one of the greatest things you can do is, listen, yes, but also help him or her talk to an adult. That adult can facilitate contacting a mental health professional.

Now, don’t worry, your friend won’t be sent to the psych ward! Typically, a teen will be assessed for a diagnosis. Then, with a diagnosis, whether that’s Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder or another type of diagnosis, a treatment plan can be formulated. Now that might sound complicated, but a treatment plan includes the type of therapy and perhaps the kind of medication, if needed, that will adequately treat the diagnosis. If you see that your friend doesn’t have the ability to cope with his or her life, seeking professional assistance can save his or her life.