It’s not always easy to tell the difference between adolescent growing pains and teen depression but here’s how to recognize the many signs and to help your teenager when they actually need it.
Begin by simply listening to them, rather than attempting to ‘fix’ them, is probably the best place to start with teens. Parents are accustomed to swooping in and saving their children when they are young. But they are not children anymore, they are young adults learning their place in the world.
As your children get older and their problems become more complicated, you’ll need to take on a more supportive role than an active role in their development and adjustments to adult life. This is especially true in regards to teens who become depressed as they require assistance to recover, but they must first desire it themselves and the role of the parent is as always a trusted guide.
Is my adolescent depressed?
While mood swings and outbursts are common during adolescence, depression is a distinctly different kettle of fish. Depression in adolescence can have far-reaching negative consequences on their future lives if not handled with care. Depression can cause your teen to experience extreme grief, despair, or rage and frustration and living in such a complex age a word to the wise would be to simply listen, carefully mediating your own responses and proceeding with empathy and concern. Keep in mind you can’t fight fire with fire, someone needs to be that calming voice of reason for progress to be made.
Common precursors to teen depression
- Have they been dissatisfied or irritated for at least two weeks?
- Do they no longer value the things they used to value?
- What are their eating and sleeping habits?
- Do they lack the motivation and drive to accomplish anything?
- Are they afraid of the future, or do they feel guilty for things that aren’t their fault?
- Have their grades dropped, or are they having difficulty concentrating?
- Have they considered committing suicide? If this is the case, you must seek immediate assistance from a mental health professional.
If your teen exhibits several of these symptoms, he or she may be depressed and may actually require professional assistance. While you cannot force them to want to have a healthier mental projection in their life, you can guide them as their parents and that all starts with you simply being present in their universe and providing options for them to selectively choose.
More complex indicators of teen depression
As parents, we have to recognise that we are living in complex times. Many of the things we understood from our youth are magnified on a grand scale or completely obsolete. We exist in an inherently threatening world and for a large part, we are simply not psychologically equipped to meaningfully address the dynamics of modern teen life. Many times this is where external therapy plays an independent role.
Depression can be distinguished by frequent crying as a resulting sense of hopelessness. However most depressed children are not always sad they are experiencing a range of emotions just as easily be irritable, angry, or agitated or just feel defeated. Fatigue and poor concentration can be symptoms of depression, which in turn can result in poor attendance, lower grades, or dissatisfaction with studies.
You may notice your child losing interest in hobbies outside of school as they withdraw from a sports team or activity or even from friends and family. Teens who are depressed frequently run away or threaten to run away, which is an indicator that they are in a place of deep discomfort or crying for help.
Teens may use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate, it’s way more common than you think. Substance abuse only worsens the situation as it distorts the teen’s perception or adoption of healthy coping mechanisms. Substance use is prevalent among teens and as a parent judgment should at all times be curtailed so that you can actually get a perspective as to what is going on with them emotionally, without fixating on substance use as being “the problem”. Depending on the substance and frequency of use it may be advised to seek professional help.
Depression can cause feelings of rage, guilt, failure, and unworthiness and a wide range of other insecurities. Teens may very often escape to the world of smartphones, gaming, technology and the internet to avoid their problems. Of course, this only adds to their feelings of isolation and depression and does not provide them with a secure platform to raise their real concerns openly.
Depression often can lead to risky behaviours such as reckless driving, binge drinking, and inappropriate sex. Some dissatisfied teenagers, often bullied boys, become enraged and violent or dissociate from the world completely. Changes in diet and sleep patterns can occur unexpectedly. Children who are depressed may spend more time in bed or suffer from insomnia. Some teenagers consume more or less food than others.
Of course, then there is your teenager that probably doesn’t fit any of the moulds but still doesn’t feel like they quite fit in the world. We have to understand that depression is a natural emotion and that we are all prone to. There is nothing “wrong” with your teen other than them having to learn to handle strong emotions in the context of the world they have been raised in and they can only learn from hard life lessons or more mindful guidance.
Creating a safe platform for your teen to express themselves
One of the most important things you can do for your teen is to work on your relationship. To generate empathy and understanding, put yourself in their shoes. You may be annoyed by their constant sadness and irritability, as well as their lack of self-help efforts. It’s understandable if they don’t have much to be happy about or if something extremely sad happens to them.
Even simple tasks become more difficult when you are depressed.
Validate their emotions rather than their bad habits. “It appears that you’ve been quite depressed recently,” for example. Is that correct?” Make it clear that you want to understand their problems rather than to try and solve it for them.
Consider this with compassion. In a non-emotional tone, inquire about their mood. Even well-intentioned parents are unaware that their concern can come across as critical rather than caring. Even if you disagree with their point of view, do not pass judgment or attempt to solve their problems. Listening to their concerns may appear to be focusing on the negative, but it is actually letting them know that you hear, see, and understand — not that you are trying to fix them. Nobody enjoys being mended. You’ll be seen as an ally and someone they can approach when they’re ready.
Allow them to succeed or fail without criticizing them in any way, so much future self-esteem is wrapped up in parental expectations. Parents role is that of encouragement. Many parents may feel passive and inadequate as a result of this. But for the time being, simply being there for them and expressing your acceptance is actually what they require.
This is a very proactive way to enable your teen to grow their own autonomy but at the same time strengthen your relationship with them as a young adult going through life.
Highlight the positive
Make a point of noticing your teen’s positive characteristics. Going to school, working part-time, cleaning the dishes, or picking up a sibling from soccer practice are all positive activities. We all want to be recognized for doing a good job, even if it is expected.
How many kind words did you exchange with them today? How many negative statements did you make? How many times have you criticized or attempted to assist them? The positive should outweigh the negative. If you see them taking care of themselves, doing homework, connecting with family, or completing other difficult tasks, tell them you are proud of them. They’ll most likely appreciate it.
You don’t have to express your displeasure that they aren’t spending as much time with friends or playing the guitar as they used to. They are most likely also dissatisfied and do not need to be reminded of their problems. They despise their feelings. They’d snap their fingers to make themselves feel better.
Assisting depressed children in obtaining treatment
Requesting that a teen attend counselling is not always successful. Those who are resistant to therapy (or you) will not change their minds overnight, but you can assist them by opening the door and patiently waiting for them to enter.
Try saying, “I know you’re struggling, and I have some suggestions to help.” Please let me know if you’d like to talk about them. I am rooting for you.” Inquire if they have any suggestions for how you can assist them. You might be surprised by what they say.
Your adolescent may ask you to take a step back. That’s fine; it’s their way of saying they need some space. Teenagers have a natural desire for autonomy, which you should respect. As a result, “I’ll give you more space, but know that I’m always available to talk or listen.”
Be prepared to assist them if they ask for it. Prepare by doing some research. Find two or three therapists for them to interview and tell them they can choose the best one for their needs. This gives them a sense of control over their treatment, which is important for teenagers and sets the stage for effective therapy.
It’s also critical to understand that your adolescent may benefit from a variety of therapies, including some tried-and-true behavioural therapies. These therapies have been shown to be effective in treating adolescent depression. Ascertain that your child has undergone a thorough evaluation with therapy recommendations.
Antidepressant medication helps many depressed adolescents. While therapy alone can help with mild to severe depression, combining medication and treatment yields the best results. Make an appointment with a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist if you are thinking about taking depression medication (not a general physician).
Why isn’t depression treatment more effective?
Find out why your child’s treatment isn’t working if he or she is already receiving it. What about treatment isn’t helpful or appealing to them? Is there anything they enjoy about therapy?
It is critical to consult with your current therapist before changing therapists. Therapy and/or how the therapeutic relationships can be enhanced.
Remember that therapy is ineffective if the patient is not committed or is only doing it under duress or to appease others. Your child should want to get and feel better. Unfortunately, some people have to deteriorate before seeking treatment of their own accord. The good news is that if you strengthen your bond now, your children will be more likely to seek your help when they are ready.
Finally, it is critical to ensure that you are taking care of yourself. Being the parent of a depressed child can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Recognize that you are not alone and seek assistance. Schedule time for enjoyable activities and socializing with friends. A happy mama (or daddy) equals a happy baby (or teen)!