Did you know?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 13.3% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 had “at least one major depressive episode” in 2017. That equates to 3.2 million American teens. What’s more, 70.77% of depression sufferers experienced at least one instance of “severe impairment” that interfered with life.
What are some of the common signs or symptoms of depression?
- Sleep problems
- Headaches, aches, indigestion, etc.
- Difficulty with concentration
- Loss of interest in food or compulsive eating
- Sadness, anxiety, or feeling hopeless
- Sudden drop in grades
- Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
- Use of alcohol or drugs or promiscuous behavior
- Withdrawal from friends
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Suicidal ideation
- Of course, see a therapist or doctor to get a definite diagnosis!
What can parents do if they think their teens are struggling with depression? Here are 15 suggestions to consider:
- Focus on listening, not lecturing. Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. You’ll do the most good by simply letting your teen know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally.
- Be gentle but persistent. Don’t give up if they shut you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Even if they want to, they may have a hard time expressing what they’re feeling. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.
- Acknowledge their feelings. Don’t try to talk your teen out of depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Well-meaning attempts to explain why “things aren’t that bad” will just come across as if you don’t take their emotions seriously. Simply acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel understood and supported.
- Trust your intuition.If your teen claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation for what is causing the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts. If your teen won’t open to you, consider turning to a trusted third party: a school counselor, favorite teacher, or a mental health professional. The important thing is to get them talking to someone.
- Encourage social connection. Depressed teens tend to withdraw from their friends and the activities they used to enjoy. But isolation only makes depression worse, so do what you can to help your teen reconnect.
- Make face time a priority.Set aside time each day to talk—time when you’re focused totally on your teen, without distractions or trying to multi-task. The simple act of connecting face to face can play a big role in reducing your teen’s depression. And remember talking about depression or your teen’s feelings will not make the situation worse, but your support can make all the difference in their recovery.
- Combat social isolation.Do what you can to keep your teen connected to others. Encourage them to go out with friends or invite friends over. Participate in activities that involve other families and give your child an opportunity to meet and connect with other kids.
- Get your teen involved.Suggest activities—such as sports, after-school clubs, or an art, dance, or music class—that take advantage of your teen’s interests and talents. While your teen may lack motivation and interest at first, as they reengage with the world, they should start to feel better and regain their enthusiasm.
- Promote volunteerism.Doing things for others is a powerful antidepressant and self-esteem booster. Help your teen find a cause they’re interested in and that gives them a sense of purpose. If you volunteer with them, it can also be a good bonding experience.
- Make physical health a priority. Physical and mental health are inextricably connected. Depression is exacerbated by inactivity, inadequate sleep, and poor nutrition. Unfortunately, teens are known for their unhealthy habits: staying up late, eating junk food, and spending hours on their phones and devices. But as a parent, you can combat these behaviors by establishing a healthy, supportive home environment.
- Get your teen moving!Exercise is essential to mental health, so get your teen active—whatever it takes. Ideally, teens should be getting at least an hour of physical activity a day, but it needn’t be boring or miserable. Think outside the box: walking the dog, dancing, shooting hoops, going for a hike, riding bikes, skateboarding—if they’re moving, it’s beneficial.
- Set limits on screen time.Teens often go online to escape their problems, but when screen time goes up, physical activity and face time with friends goes down. Both are a recipe for worsening symptoms.
- Provide nutritious, balanced meals.Make sure your teen is getting the nutrition they need for optimum brain health and mood support: things like healthy fats, quality protein, and fresh produce. Eating a lot of sugary, starchy foods—the quick “pick me up” of many depressed teens—will only have a negative effect on their mood and energy.
- Encourage plenty of sleep.Teens need more sleep than adults to function optimally—up to 9-10 hours per night. Make sure your teen isn’t staying up until all hours at the expense of much-needed, mood-supporting rest.
- Know when to seek professional help.