The tween and teen years are a time of rapid physical and emotional development. Adolescents are acquiring new skills constantly, while at the same time they may face many different pressures and ask questions about themselves, their identity and where they fit into the bigger picture. They’re constantly discovering who they are, and exploring possibilities of who they might become. They’re imagining what it would be like to be apart from their parents. It is an exhilarating time. With such significant development and so much change and uncertainty, it’s normal for tweens and teens to experience what’s often referred to as “growing pains.” Those may include bad moods or even some acting out. But a teen suffering from depression is different, and it’s important to recognize the signs.
A Picture of Depression
An adolescent suffering from depression may feel overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, exhaustion, or even desperation. It is critical to know that teen depression can also look more like rage, anger, or irritability, than sadness.
Here are five suggestions to keep in mind when supporting teens dealing with depression.
If your teens want to open up and talk with you, listen. Don’t criticize, judge, punish, or lecture them about what they tell you. These reactions can shut down communication. Instead, be grateful that they are communicating with you in the first place. That communication is deeply protective. Our reactions can silence our teens or even push them away when they need us most. If they’re not opening up, start a conversation. It doesn’t have to be about how worried you are. Start off with light topics that simply encourage a two-way dialogue. Showing that the lines of communication are open is an important way to show that you are there — ready to listen.
2) Acknowledge Feelings Without Judgement
It’s important not to make your children feel as if their feelings are odd, unusual, or irrational. Instead, take their emotions seriously. This is important in helping to build trust in your relationship. Acknowledge their feelings, including pain, anger, hurt or sadness. If it seems like they are imagining the worst (for example, that they have no friends at all and that nobody likes or cares about them), gently point out reassuring facts or realities. But do this without discounting the emotions expressed. Let them know you want to understand what they are going through, but you can only do so if they help you.
3) Involve Them in Treatment Choices
If seeking professional help, involve your children whenever possible. You want them to be motivated and engaged in the treatment. It’s important your teen connects with the professional and the style of treatment. The connections made may increase the likelihood of engagement in the healing process. It is important to note here that deeply depressed people may not be able to or want to be involved in the treatment options. They may even be resistant to going. In this case, you need to be able to guide them to seek care, and if necessary insist on it. Read this piece for suggestions on how to prepare young people to seek professional help.
4) Offer Emotional Encouragement
Be patient and understanding. Let your children know that depression is a real illness. Acknowledge that while you realize they may not feel good now, that with professional support, in time they will feel better. By being confident in your child’s ability to improve, you offer the support they need to believe they’ll “get through” things. Always be clear that the symptoms they are experiencing (for example, fatigue, lack of appetite, despair) are treatable.
5) Never Ignore Talk About Suicide
If young people talk about, threaten, or even joke about suicide, take it seriously. If there is talk about death in positive terms or the concept of dying is romanticized or glorified, don’t ignore it. Never assume a young person is “only trying to get attention.” Well-meaning people might mistakenly guide you to ignore these pleas, suggesting that things will get worse if you feed into these attempts for attention. If a child is trying to get attention, give it. For teens dealing with depression, the risk of suicide can be higher. Seek help from a professional right away if there is any cause of concern.
Check out these resources for additional information on teen suicide warning signs:
If urgent help is needed:
Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
Text START to 741-741
What Teens Need to Know About Seeking Professional Help
Perhaps the most essential thing teens need to know is that emotional discomfort is treatable. There are people who know how to support teens so they can feel better. And they deserve to feel better. Click through for more.
Seeking Help is an Act of Strength
Strong people know they’re capable of feeling better, deserve to feel better, and will take the required steps to improve their outlook. Use the word “deserve” instead of “need” when talking about getting help.
Asking for Guidance Shows Self-Awareness
Individuals who know themselves, can identify their feelings, and recognize when they need help often become the most successful and happy adults.
Professionals are Trained to Help
They work with teens because they want to help. They have gone through years of training to do so. They honor privacy and strive to support without judgment.
Professionals are Only Part of a Support System
Seeking professional help does not mean teens should give up other support systems. Family and friends remain the most important people in their lives.
Take Care of Yourself
As a parent or caregiver of a teen dealing with depression, you play an important role in helping your teen to stay hopeful about the future. Learning how you can offer emotional support and guide your child to seek the help of a professional are key. But don’t forget your own needs as you focus needed attention towards your child. There are many reasons to continue to take care of yourself. Your teens need you to remain strong so they can draw from your strength. This time will be challenging and you deserve to give yourself needed attention. Finally, you are modeling for your children how to get through a trying time by committing to care for yourself and to using healthy coping strategies.
Art by: Aisa Binhashim