When I was a teenager suffering from major depression, my parents tried their best to support me, yet ended up doing all the wrong things. This isn’t something they can be blamed for — understanding another person, even those closest to us, is difficult enough even when mental health issues don’t come into play.
When you take a moment to actually think about it, the teenage years can be some of the most difficult times in a person’s life. While adolescents are just entering their intellectual and emotional maturity, they still lack the information and experience needed to make good decisions and in fact have very little control over the circumstances of their lives. Very often, they are socially and emotionally insecure, concerned about the future and exposed to pressures that few adults can truly understand or remember feeling themselves. Under such circumstances, it’s really not surprising that teens sometimes become depressed – in fact, it’s estimated that as many as 20% of people between 13 and 18 growing up today will be diagnosed with a serious mental illness.
With this being the case, all parents should educate themselves about how to recognize the symptoms of depression in their children and know something about how to support them through dark times.
Is Your Child Actually Depressed, or Just Moody?
While everyone likes to have opinions, even qualified therapists are hesitant to diagnose clinical depression without getting to know their patients in depth. Amateur psychologists should be even more careful when trying to evaluate other people’s states of mind – especially if they’re not in the habit of sharing their feelings with you.
Every teenager has bad days and mood swings that can seem severe and disturbing, but this is not the same as suffering from depression. This only becomes a cause for worry if there’s a marked change in behavior lasting several weeks. Unlike depression in adults, teenage depression is often not characterized by feelings of sadness. Instead, you might see heightened irritability or headaches and stomachaches that can’t be explained by physical causes.
Depression in teens often manifests in signs such as a major drop in school performance, refusing to hang out with friends with whom they used to be socially active, eating and sleeping more or less than before, or frequently talking about death. If your child has been showing any of these symptoms, it is certainly recommended that you try to find out what’s bothering him or her and make sure your child has access to therapy. Many depressed teens go for months or years without receiving any help at all. If you’re worried about your child’s mental health you don’t want to overreact, but it is something that should be taken seriously.
Acknowledging the Way They’re Feeling
Many teenagers will complain that their parents don’t understand them, usually with some justification. The truth is that teens’ internal lives can be extremely complex and even baffling, even when you have a relatively good relationship with them. When depressed, they can be extremely sensitive to anything they perceive as criticism or rejection, so providing them with validation is even more important than usual.
Keeping this in mind, it’s simply absurd to tell them about how they “should” be feeling based on what you know about their circumstances. Instead, letting them talk about their emotions without being judgmental or preachy will help them to communicate and gain some perspective on whatever they may be facing.
At the same time, you should use this opportunity to emphasize that our feelings, while always real and valid, are in a sense separate from the decisions we choose to make. Many parents realize that their child is depressed only after there are problems with drugs or alcohol, reckless sexual behavior, or self-harm. Having someone to talk to about those feelings, without the conversation turning into a lecture or confrontation, can serve as a much more productive release valve.
While it may be necessary to persistently but gently encourage them to embrace a course of therapy or medication, this should never be a unilateral decision on your part unless they’re actually at risk of harming themselves. Forcing them to seek treatment will not only make it less likely to be effective, but damage the trust between you irreparably.
Providing a Stable Environment
Teenagers are surprisingly adaptable, but they also require an emotional anchor as far as their home life is concerned. While this is sometimes easier said than done, providing a living situation in which they feel appreciated, cared for and safe is one of the most important things the parents of a depressed child can do.
It might not be possible to completely shield them from a divorce, frequent moves or financial troubles, but the impact of such dislocations can be greatly reduced by discussing them without trying to sugarcoat the basic facts. Organizing quality family time such as going on outings or having sit-down dinners is also an excellent way of making their house feel like a home, engaging their attention and keeping them from becoming socially isolated.
Take Care of Yourself, Too
The difficulty for parents of depressed teens can hardly be overstated. At times, no matter how much you love them, the task will seem both futile and overwhelming.
The good news is that depression is almost always temporary. Talk therapy has helped many people recover, while a good diet and a moderate amount of exercise are also important. This applies not only to the depressed person, but to you as well.
Talking to a friend you can trust will rarely be a waste of effort, while contacting a professional counselor for advice and emotional support is also recommended. Remember that, despite your best intentions, it’s also possible that you’ll end up doing more harm than good if you can’t maintain your own equilibrium. Making sure that you have access to the support you need is all to the benefit of your child.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
Author Bio: Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc.
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