As a parent, it’s natural that you want to support your child through whatever they are going through. Up to this point, you might have been helping your teen through the ups and downs of school, friendships, sibling rivalry, and other issues that you went through yourself during your younger years. If your teenager has been diagnosed with depression, however, you might not know what to do, what to say, or how to best support him or her. Even if you have gone through depression yourself, it can sometimes be hard to know what to say and what to do. Here are some tips on helping your depressed teen through this difficult time.
Try to Just Listen
If your teen is using you as a sounding board, it can require a lot of restraint to not give advice. After all, you’re a parent, and that’s what parents do. A person struggling with depression, however, is not looking for advice. Platitudes like, “cheer up!” or “what do you have to be sad about?” or “this isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of things,” are not helpful, and can even serve to push your child away. It’s very likely that your teenager already knows that he or she is feeling down about things that won’t matter in the long run or that they’re overreacting.
Pointing this out or trying to give your child solutions isn’t going to make them feel any better. Instead, try active listening: Nod or give small verbal signs that you are listening, and occasionally reword what they are saying to be sure you understand. This can make your teen feel heard and understood.
Never Ask Your Depressed Teen to “Snap Out of It”
If your depressed teen could stop feeling bad at will, they would. The problem with depression is that they cannot simply turn it off or focus on something else instead. Let your teen know that you understand that these feelings are beyond his or her control, and never blame him or her for those bad feelings.
When you are feeling overwhelmed by your teen’s negativity, don’t be afraid to share positive things going on in your own life. It can be very difficult (or even impossible) for your teen to come up with positive things to talk about on his or her own, so go ahead and talk about a promotion at work, a funny cat meme you saw on your Facebook feed, or the delicious lunch you had. This might spark a positive thought from your child. If it doesn’t, try not to take it personally.
Learn About Depression
Use your teen’s doctors and mental health professionals as resources to learn more about depression and what it entails. Going to a support group for parents of teens dealing with mental illness can help you learn more about your role as a caregiver, and it can also give you people to lean on who have gotten through the process of helping their own teenagers with depression.
Insist That Your Teen Follow Up With Doctors and Medications
Although in a few short years, your teenager will be an adult, it’s vital that you take control of your child’s well-being if he or she is unable or unwilling to do so. You will likely need to be the one to insist on mental health care; while some teens will reach out and ask for help, many others might resist or lose interest after a few sessions.
If your teen’s doctors recommend medication and you agree, help your depressed teen stick to the regimen. There may be times, particularly in the beginning, when he or she doubts that the meds are helping; remind them that these types of medication often take time to show any effects and that many times, dosages and specific medications need to be tinkered with. Be open to the possibility that switching meds might be necessary, but explain to your teen that it’s important not to change anything without express approval from their doctor.
Encourage Healthy Lifestyle Choices
When a person is suffering with depression, it can be nearly impossible for them to make good choices when it comes to everyday activities. For example, some people with depression might not even remember or wish to take a shower, get dressed, leave the house, or go to bed at a reasonable time.
While you might not control your teen’s schedule very closely in the course of normal events, you might need to take a more active part in planning and strongly encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Insist that your teen shower regularly, and try to make plans that include your child. Encourage him or her to get to sleep at a decent hour, and either have them set an alarm or go in and wake them up so they can get to school or meet other obligations. Get your child to do some exercise each day if possible, too. Even if your teen says it just feels like going through the motions, these everyday activities can bring a sense of routine and predictability to the day, which can boost their mood.
Also, keep your eye out for signs that your teen is self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Depression and substance abuse can be linked in some cases, and some individuals will try to dull the sadness or pain by turning to legal or illegal substances. If you suspect drug use or abuse, talk to your child’s mental health professionals for an evaluation.
Helping your depressed teen through his or her depression is overwhelming and stressful for you, as a parent. It’s important to understand that while you are a vital part of his or her support system, you cannot be all that your teen needs during this time. Don’t be afraid to rely on the mental health professionals that your adolescent is referred to, as a source of both information and support. You might need to navigate your relationship with your teen; during his or her battle with depression, you might be needed more than ever and in a different way. Remaining flexible, positive and understanding will go a long way toward you being able to successfully support your child during this time and beyond.