Within the last decade, survey results have shown that our country is experiencing a rise of depression in teens. Our fast-paced lives, our increasing expectations of our teens, and evolving societal pressures may all play a role in contributing to this. The good news is that with increasing awareness about mental health concerns, our society has access to more knowledge than ever before about how to help teens who are dealing with depression.
Staying informed about depression and suicide is one of the best things parents can do for their teens. Organizations like the National Institute of Mental Health provide helpful information to better understand the signs of depression and treatment options. There are several helpful links to more information on depression at the end of this article.
Here are several quick points about depression that I pass on to parents of teens. These points include helpful reminders about depression and address some common misconceptions.
- Depression in teens can often show up as irritability. When your teen seems consistently unmotivated and irritable, this doesn’t mean he or she is just lazy and doesn’t care. It may mean there’s something deeper going on. It takes patience and understanding to see driving the outward behavior.
- Try to see what’s underneath. Unfortunately, it’s easy to react out of our own anger when our teens are defiant, disrespectful, or just in a bad mood. Before reacting, try taking a deep breath and asking yourself, “What could be going on underneath the surface to cause this behavior/mood/response?” This will give you a chance to respond in the ways you want to rather than out of frustration.
- Extend an invitation. Then repeat. Instead of trying to prescribe a fix (i.e. “you should call one of your friends” or “don’t just stay in bed all day”), try extending invitations to your teen to do something fun or even ordinary. An invitation might sound like, “I’m feeling like getting ice cream tonight. Would you like to join me?” Or, “I’ve got to stop at the grocery, store this afternoon. Would you like to go with me?” Let go of any expectations you have about how often your teen accepts the invitation. These invitations can show you are thinking about him or her and may make space for important conversations.
- Schedule an appointment with a doctor or another medical professional if you suspect your teen is suffering from depression. There are a lot of things that can contribute to depression, but proper exercise, sleep, and diet are very important when addressing depressive symptoms.
- Always take any indications of suicide or self-harm seriously. Even if you believe your teen is making a fictitious threat, it is important to communicate that the threat of suicide is serious, and it will always be taken seriously. This communicates care to your teen and allows you, as the parent, to act on a boundary line in the relationship.
If you or your teen is experiencing depression symptoms, consider contacting a mental health professional. It may be a crucial step in the journey toward thriving.