Helping Your Depressed Teen
As a parent, it can be scary to see your teenager begin to withdraw from friends and family and stop doing the activities they once enjoyed. While certain personality and behavior changes tend to go along with the teen years, you may sometimes see changes that raise concern about whether your teen is struggling with depression.
So, what are some of the signs that could indicate that your teen is experiencing more than just a typical adolescent mood swing? Look for sudden changes in mood, temperament or behavior, such as avoiding family or friends, staying in seclusion, sleeping too much or too little, avoiding activities or friends they normally take great pleasure in. Here are some other warning indicators to keep an eye out for.
Be on the lookout for signs such as:
· Does your teen often feel sad, or have sudden crying spells for no reason?
· Do you notice unusual outbursts of anger or frustration, even during activities they would normally enjoy?
· Do they sometimes voice thoughts about feeling e
mpty, worthless or without purpose?
· Are they easily irritated or annoyed?
· In their comments or body language, do they just seem to feel defeated?
· Are they overly-critical of themselves, taking blame for difficulties or exaggerating their mistakes?
· Have you noticed an unusual struggle with concentration, focus or motivation?
· Is there frequent talk of death, dying or suicide?
· Have you noticed a change in their appetite with either not eating or binging?
· Have you detected experimentation with alcohol or drugs?
· Do they have unusual physical symptoms, such as headaches, intestinal problems, or fatigue?
· Is your teen engaging in binge habits, such as drinking, eating or drugs?
· Is there evidence of self-harm, such as cutting or burning?
1) What should teens do when stress is causing them to feel depressed or experience anxiety?
It can be difficult to discuss what you are going through, but it can make a world of difference to get your thoughts and emotions out to another person. Open up with someone you think will be supportive. It is also important that you stay engaged in your hobbies, activities and social life. Withdrawal and isolation typically just make the symptoms worse. Stay physically active, either with regular exercise or some activity that helps keep you moving. Getting your heart rate up has a tremendous effect on your positive mood, your ability to think more clearly and sleep better at night.
And, finally, focus on the areas of your life that you can control. Stress, depression and anxiety are often made worse by feeling frustrated over the parts of our lives we can do nothing about. Rather than wishing things were different, focus on doing the best you can do to make good decisions, take good care of yourself and spent time with other positive, supportive people. As best you can, avoid exposure to negative talk or criticism that brings you down, especially on social media. It is important that you establish healthy, firm boundaries to limit the influence of those things that negatively impact you, as much as possible.
2) When parents do notice those signs, what should they do to help their teen?
Do not be afraid to ask your teen what they are dealing with. If, after talking with your teen, you think this is something you can help them through, try to keep your teen engaged so they don’t get lost in avoidance behavior. Make sure they know there is an open door on your end to listen without criticizing, judging or giving too much advice. Encourage positive coping skills, such as physical activity, time with friends, engaging in past positive behaviors and just being with family (with or without talking).
You cannot control your teen’s attitude, mood or most of their choices, but you can lead by example – cope with your own stress in a positive way. Maybe even share with them ways you have found to be helpful or not-helpful in coping with your own personal struggles in the past. Any of us can be prone to feeling defeated and inadequate when we think we are the only ones who don’t “have it all together.”
If you think your teen is more severely depressed and may even be considering self-harm, do not hesitate to get them to a mental health professional. In cases of life-threatening actions or threats, parents should immediately seek help by calling 911 or taking their teen to their local hospital emergency room.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24 hours per day at 1-800-273-8255. This is an important resource for you or your teen.
Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker & Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.