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Is Your Teen Depressed?: Warning Signs and How to Help

The transition from childhood into adolescence is never easy – it’s not easy for the transitioning teen, the parents/caregiver(s), or the whole family. As teens’ mental, physical, emotional, and social development changes, so do their behaviors. Understanding and experiencing these changes is not always a clear and simple journey. Sometimes, more complicated issues can happen for teens. Adolescents often experience an overall shift in their mental health during this developmental phase, and concerns such as depression, may arise. If there is concern that your adolescent may have depression, there are certain signs to be aware of and several approaches to use in order to best help your teenager. This blog post will reflect on Stephanie Dowd’s article, Parenting a Depressed Teenager.

If you suspect that your teen may have depression, one of the difficult tasks to overcome is getting your child professional help. The struggle for some parents in this situation may be that their teenager is refusing or not wanting professional help. If this is the case, patience, understanding, and collaborative conversations need to take place first.

There are several signs to look for if you are trying to assess whether or not your teenager might have depression. According to Dowd, the following are indicators to look for:

  • Irritability – irritable for most days in a week, for at least two weeks
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies that they typically enjoy
  • Low energy or little motivation to do anything
  • Change in eating or sleeping habits – more OR less eating, too much or too little sleep
  • Expressed feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt
  • Grades dropping or difficulty with concentration
  • Self-harming or suicidal ideation – if either of these are the case, immediate professional attention is required; if safety is threatened, taking your child to the ER may be necessary

These are critical warning signs that cannot be glazed over. If your teenager shows more than a few of those signs, they may have depression that will require the help of a mental health professional. A way to ease into the process of getting your child help will simply require that you are there and present for them.

Be Supportive

The most important thing that you can do for your depressed teen is to be supportive and to strengthen your relationship with them. Focus on building empathy and try to understand where your child is coming from – try to best understand their experience for what it is. Validate their emotions, and do not highlight the unhealthy behavior. Oftentimes the “unhealthy” depressive behaviors are a symptom of something deeper, which your teen may have difficulty expressing or understanding [themselves]. Also, be compassionately curious and show acceptance for their experience. Give your adolescent opportunities to do things without being critical.

Accentuate the Positive

While you try to give your teen the best support possible as they struggle through depression or other mental health issues, make sure you are also accentuating the positive things that they are doing. If they’re still going to school/their classes, working at a part-time job, or maintaining their chores – these are all things to positively reinforce. In doing so, ask yourself “how many positive things have I said today?, how many negative things have I said today?”. The positives should always outweigh the negatives. Remember, there is no need to mention any of your disappointments to your teenager; if they’re depressed, they are likely feeling some disappointments of their own as well.

How to Help Your Depressed Child Get Treatment

Some teens are on board for therapy and some may not be. If your adolescent is resistant to therapy, be patient and gently voice that therapy can be a very helpful option for them. Also ask your teen what their suggestions are on how you can best help them – their suggestions may surprise you! If your child tells you to back off on the idea of therapy, give them space. However, remind them that if they change their mind, you’ll be ready to support them through the process.

If your teen is on board, make sure to do your research. Encourage your teen to research therapists with you – make it a collaborative process. Finding the right fit is very important, and also do research on different therapeutic modalities that you and your teen may find helpful.

Take Care of Yourself

Lastly, it’s critical that you, as the parent/caregiver, practice self-care as you help your child work through their depression. It can be emotionally and mentally exhausting to be the parent of a teen who is struggling with depression. You are not alone in this experience – make sure to get support for yourself. Don’t forget to practice your own rituals and make time for doing things you enjoy. If you are feeling mentally healthy, the better you are able to improve your child’s mental health.

Dr. Stephanie Dowd’s article, Parenting a Depressed Teenager, was referenced for this blog post.

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