The teenage years can be an exciting time, full of milestones and new experiences. For example, when your child is a teenager, he or she can take their driving test and get a license, start working at a part-time job and earning their own money, and consider what college they’d like to go to after graduation.
At the same time, many teens struggle and may not be interested in the excitement or milestones of this time because they’re dealing with mental health concerns like depression.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 3.2 million young people between the ages of 12 and 17 report having at least one major depressive episode in the past 12 months. When a teen is depressed they’re more likely to also deal with substance abuse and anxiety.
Symptoms of depression in teens can look different individually and also between different genders.
Girls tend to have more of the “typical” symptoms of depression such as guilt, fatigue, low energy and feelings of worthlessness. Boys, on the other hand, may be more likely to show signs of depression through irritability or aggression.
So why the rise in the rates of teen depression?
There are different theories. One is that teens are more connected to their peers and the world around them than any other generation, and that can make them feel more anxious and if they are experiencing something like bullying, it can feel like they don’t have an escape or reprieve from that.
As a parent, if you recognize the signs of depression in your teen, what can you do?
Familiarize Yourself with Less Common Symptoms
Even if you’re not sure that your teen is depressed, but you notice changes in their habits or behaviors, you should familiarize yourself with all the ways depression can manifest itself. This can help you provide better support to your teen and also know when it’s potentially time to seek professional help for your teen.
Be Supportive Without Trying to “Solve” the Problem
Depression is a mental health condition, and it’s not a problem that can be solved overnight. If your teen is experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to let them know you’re there for them and that you’re supportive and empathetic, but don’t try to solve all their problems.
You can ask questions and learn more about how your teen is feeling, but at the same time, don’t validate their behaviors that aren’t healthy.
When you’re talking to your teen about what’s going on, you also want to ask questions in a way that’s as nonemotionally as possible. You don’t want to come off as being critical or emotional to the point that it’s overwhelming to your teen.
Explore Professional Treatment Options
While some people may experience temporary or situational depression that can be alleviated without professional help, this isn’t the norm. You should speak with your child’s pediatrician first and foremost and see what their advice might be, and then you can work to find a therapist who will work well for your teen’s needs.
Look for a therapist who specializes in teens if possible.
If you take your teen to a therapist, they will likely begin with an in-depth evaluation and then come up with a plan for the best next steps.
Listen to what your teen’s therapist tells you and try to learn as much as you can about depression so you can come from a place of more empathy and understanding.
Also, open up communication about your teen’s treatment plan and how you’re willing to support them in that as well as what the expectations are for them.
Create a Calm, Safe and Supportive Environment
Teens deal with so many challenges in terms of the world around them, their friend group, school, activities, and more. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by all of this.
As a parent, work on making your home a space that’s calm, safe, and supportive. Try to eliminate chaos as much as possible and let your teen know that their home is where they can be themselves and their family will love them no matter what.
When your teen is at home, try to do healthy activities with them that they enjoy. This might be exercise, sharing a favorite TV show, cooking, or anything that’s low-stress and pleasant.
Make Sure You Have Your Own Support System
When you’re a parent of a teen it can be challenging enough to navigate, and you may question your decisions on a nearly daily basis.
If your teen is dealing with depression, it can be even more challenging.
In order to be a supportive parent to your teen, you need to make sure you’re taking care of your own mental health.
Make sure you have a support system, whether it’s friends, your spouse, or perhaps a therapist that you also work with.
While you want to spend time with your teen, you should also find things you do on your own that help you relieve stress. Maybe you even find that you share interests with your teen that can be positive for both of you—for example, you might start attending yoga classes together.
Finally, your teen may be dealing with depression, but that’s not what defines them. As is the case with any illness, your teen’s depression is only one part of their life.
Make sure that you’re regularly discussing the positive things in your teen’s life with them as well. You want to recognize any achievements, even if they seem minor.
Focus on the positive and count how many positive comments you make to your teen on a daily basis.
You have to realize as a parent that you didn’t cause depression, nor can you cure it, but you can be a positive support system and source of comfort for your teen as they go through challenges in their life.