Studies have shown that approximately one in five teenagers suffer from depression at some point in their life. Depression is highly treatable however if treatment is not sought in a timely manner, it can lead to unhealthy behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and violent and angry behavior potentially resulting in illegal activity. Signs and symptoms of depression in teenagers include problems at school, change in appetite and weight, changes in sleep patterns, sad mood, low energy, social isolation or hanging out with a different group of peers, difficulty concentrating, restlessness and agitation, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, unexplained aches and pains, and anger or hostility. If you are unsure whether your teenager is just experiencing hormonal mood changes or just “being a teenager”, consider how long the symptoms have been present for and how severe these symptoms are. It is never too soon to ask for advice and help, either from a school counselor or a mental health professional
Learn to communicate with your depressed teenager
The first step in seeking help for your depressed teen is being able to communicate with them. Even if you’re unsure that depression is the issue, the troublesome behaviors and emotions you’re seeing are signs of a problem that should be addressed. Start an open dialogue by letting your teenager what specific symptoms you have witnessed and why they worry you. Ask your son or daughter to share with you what they are experiencing then be prepared to listen without asking a lot of questions. You son or daughter may expect you to become angry or overreact so make sure you offer any support they need in a loving manner.
Encourage social connection
Depression leads to isolation and broken relationships. Many teenagers will leave their usual social circle and find new friends, yearning to fill a void with different people. Reconnect with you teen each day by setting aside a time to talk to them about what they are going through. Maybe treat them to their favorite meal or coffee drink. Do what you can to keep your teenager connected to others by encouraging them to go out with their friends or invite friends over. Try getting your teenager involved in afterschool activities such as sports, volunteer programs, music lessons, or any type of social clubs. Getting involved in a meaningful program cannot only combat depression by promoting self-esteem but it can also bring a sense of purpose.
Make physical health a priority
Depression is exacerbated by inactivity, inadequate sleep, and poor nutrition. Unfortunately, teens are known for their unhealthy habits: staying up late, eating junk food, and spending hours on their phones and devices. But as a parent, you can combat these behaviors by establishing a healthy, supportive home environment. Getting your teenagers outside for an hour of physical activity a day has been shown to improve their mood and overall function. Other important steps include setting a limit on screen time, providing home-cooked nutritious meals and snacks and encouraging plenty of sleep (8-9 hours a night).
Know when to seek professional help
Support and healthy lifestyle changes can make a world of difference for depressed teens, but it’s not always enough. When depression is severe, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a mental health professional with advanced training and a strong background treating teens. Choosing a mental health professional can seem overwhelming with so many options available. You can narrow your options down by location, whether or not they are covered under your insurance and allowing your teenager to make the decision with you. It is important to listen to your son or daughter’s feedback about their therapist. If they are not establishing a connection or feel uncomfortable then it may be time to explore another option and look for a better fit.
Explore your treatment options
Expect a discussion with the specialist you’ve chosen about depression treatment options for your teen. Talk therapy is often a good initial treatment for mild to moderate cases of depression. Over the course of therapy, your teen’s depression may resolve. If it doesn’t, medication may be warranted. Antidepressants do come with side effects and it is important to have a discussion with your treatment provider and your teenager about the risks and benefits associated with anti-depressants.
Support your teenager and your family through depression treatment
Make yourself available to your son or daughter and be understanding as their emotions can difficult and draining during this time. It is also important to stay involved during their treatment and be patient with their progress. Outpatient treatment does not work overnight and it may in fact take weeks or months to see progress. Rejoice in small victories and prepare for any setbacks. Finally, look after your own health, stay connected with the rest of your family, take time out for yourself and your spouse and make sure your other children are happy and healthy.