Dealing with Teen Depression
During the teenage years, children experience a roller coaster of emotions. When teens feel sadness, they often feel it deeply and intensely. But there is a difference between extreme short-term sadness over a specific situation, and long-term sadness that affects every area of their life for weeks, months, or even years. If you feel that your child is better described by the latter, it is possible that they are struggling with teen depression.
Signs of Teen Depression
Depression is a mental disorder, meaning it is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, for someone who is predisposed to this illness, there are several risk factors that make it more likely to rear its ugly head during the teen years. Risk factors for teen depression include:
- Extreme stress: Stressful situations at home, at school, or with friends may trigger a downward spiral that a teen with depression cannot get out of.
- Serious loss: The pain caused by a breakup, death of a loved one, serious injury, or other situation that causes extreme sadness will drag on long past the normal grieving period for a teen who is struggling with depression.
- Other mental health disorder: Teens who have been diagnosed with an additional disorder such as a learning disability, anxiety, bipolar, etc. are at much higher risk for also experiencing depression.
Teen Depression Symptoms
Depression looks different in teens than it does in adults. If you see several or more of these symptoms in your teen, consider getting help.
- Morbidity, writing dark poems/songs, fascination with death
- General feelings of hopelessness, sometimes resulting in a lack of personal hygiene and self-care
- Low energy
- Social isolation from family and childhood friends, may show obsession with new friends
- Complains frequently of aches and pains
- Frequent crying over seemingly small issues or for no reason
- Statements that show feelings of worthlessness and/or guilt
Teen Depression Treatment
If your teen is in fact struggling with depression, it is not hopeless! In fact, diagnosing the problem is one of the most important steps in helping them find healing. Teen depression is a completely treatable illness that millions have found healing from. Come up with a treatment strategy to get your teen healthy again. Here are some suggestions for how you can help:
- Don’t make your teen feel guilty about their feelings of sadness. There is a popular mental health quote that says telling a depressed person to stop being sad because there’s so much to be happy about is like telling a person with asthma to just breathe because there’s plenty of oxygen in the room. It doesn’t work that way. Don’t tell them just to “snap out of it.”
- Take your teen to get a physical check-up. Sometimes depression is related to a physical issue, such as a low thyroid or other illness. Make sure your teen is physically healthy and then work to get them mentally healthy.
- Encourage your teen to go to therapy. One-on-one therapy is the most successful treatment for depression. Learning to express their feelings instead of bottling them up will help your teen throughout their entire life
- If they refuse to go to therapy, go for a few sessions yourself to learn strategies on how to talk to them. You can also learn ways to keep yourself healthy while helping your teen through this time.
- Only use medication/antidepressants as a last resort. Antidepressants were designed for adults, and should be used with extreme caution for teens. Some have been known to cause increased suicidal thoughts and worsen the problem. If you and your therapist/doctor do decide to put your teen on medication, watch closely for red flags like suicidal statements (i.e. “I wish I were dead,” or “No one would even care if I died”), increased aggression, or panic attacks.
- Don’t ignore the rest of your family! Helping a depressed teen can sap your energy and wear on you emotionally. Make a conscious effort to spend time relaxing with other members of your family and do not spend this time discussing the treatment of your struggling child.