How to Help and Respond If Your Teen is Depressed

Data suggest that more than 10 percent of adolescents suffer from some kind of major depressive episode between the ages of 12 and 19. For caregivers caught up in the melee, it can be challenging to know what to do, how to identify symptoms, where to find treatment, and how to prevent it from taking over their lives and relationships. 

Recent research suggests that the best thing that caregivers can do is take active steps to attempt to remedy the problem, not just for the sake of their teen’s mental health, but theirs too. 

Signs Your Teen Is Depressed

Prolonged Sadness Or Irritability

Depression and sadness are two different things. But to the outside observer untrained in matters of mental health, it may be difficult to tell the difference. Your child may appear uncharacteristically sad about their lives for a lengthy period (usually more than two weeks), which could indicate depression. Irritability can also arise if the child doesn’t want to interact with the world to the same degree. Depression robs children of their authentic outgoing nature. 

Problems With Sleeping And Eating

Depression can wreak havoc on both sleeping and eating. It can be a challenge for a depressed child to fall into a restful sleep or feel hungry before a meal.

Prolonged Lack Of Energy

A lack of energy or unwillingness to get out of bed (even when there are good reasons for doing so) is a hallmark of depression. Depressed teens often have a lower academic performance at school than their peers. 

Persistent Feelings Of Worthlessness and Hopelessness

Depressed teens may feel that they don’t have agency in the world and that they’ll never feel happy about themselves, their relationships, or their work. In its worst form, feelings of hopelessness can lead to depression and suicide. If you suspect that your child may be suicidal, then seek professional help immediately. 

Steps To Help 

Dealing with depression can be a challenge. For many teens, it can seem like an intractable state of mind – something from which they cannot escape. The job of the caregiver isn’t to “cure” them, but create the conditions that put the teen firmly on the track back to mental health. 

Step 1: Listen With Genuine Curiosity And Compassion

Compassion is where you accept the lashing out of another person, but fundamentally believe that their behavior stems from a place of pain, not evil. A depressed teen may shout and rage, sometimes directly at you. But it’s your job to recognize that this isn’t necessarily a statement about their character, but a reflection of the fact that they are hurting inside. 

The first step is to open up a dialogue with your teen. You want to make them feel as if they can come forward and freely discuss their feelings. Start with simple questions about what is troubling them and how they feel. The goal isn’t to provide advice, but to focus on listening to the problem and offering support. Often that’s all you can do, at least to begin with. 

Step 2: Avoid Reminding Your Teen Of Their Failures

The sense that one has failed in life can breed depression. A teen who believes that he or she is worthless because they lack friends or achievements is at a heightened risk of developing the condition. Paradoxically, depressed teens can withdraw from life and deny themselves the opportunity to form new friendships, romantic relationships, or college aspirations.

Parents and teachers might be tempted to remind teens that they’re missing out on life, but this is risky because it could reinforce their belief that they’re a failure. You don’t want that. Try to find ways to praise your teen for the things that they can do and build a solid base from there. Your teen might not have friends, but he or she is a kind and compassionate person, for instance. 

Step 3: Just Be There

Caregivers often want their teens to open up about how they feel. But forcing this process is not advisable. Teens need space to develop their sense of self and boundaries. The job of the caregiver is to provide a kind of unconditional support, telling their teen that they will be there for them, as and when they’re needed. 

It can be hard for parents to sit on the emotional sidelines while their teen suffers, but it’s essential. Letting go of your own needs encourages your teen to come forward with theirs. 

How To Get Treatment 

The good news is that matters eventually resolve themselves in the majority of cases. However, if you believe that your teen’s depression is deep-seated or having an intolerable impact on their quality of life, then you may want to seek the help and advice of a professional. 

Professional therapists have a theoretical framework in their minds that they use to listen to your teen in a non-judgemental way and find ways to remedy the situation. The nature of your teen’s depression may be challenging to identify, and you may find that without professional help, you go through successive cycles of mental health and depression, seemingly without end. The job of the mental health professional is to find ways to nip depression in the bud before it has long-term development effects. 

How To Look After Yourself 

Managing a teen with depression is an exhausting task for parents. You can’t help but emotionally involve yourself in their suffering. Your teen is still your child, and you feel very strongly that they’re you’re responsibility – that’s entirely natural. 

Coping with a person with depression is, however, a challenge. It can begin to chip away at your own mental health, making you feel worried, anxious, and depressed yourself. As a parent, it’s crucial to recognize that you’re not alone; there are plenty of people who can help you, such as your partner or other family members. You can also seek professional advice if you feel that the situation is affecting you in negative ways or bringing up toxic issues from your past. 

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