Tip : Make Physical Health A Priority
Physical and mental health are inextricably connected. 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.
Get your teen moving!Exercise is absolutely essential to mental health, so get your teen activewhatever it takes. Ideally, teens should be getting at least an hour of physical activity a day, but it neednt be boring or miserable. Think outside the box: walking the dog, dancing, shooting hoops, going for a hike, riding bikes, skateboardingas long as theyre moving, its beneficial.
Set limits on screen time. Teens often go online to escape their problems, but when screen time goes up, physical activity and face time with friends goes down. Both are a recipe for worsening symptoms. Gently encourage your teen to take an occasional vacation from their devices or engage in family activities that dont involve screen time. You can also set an example by reducing your own time spent online.
Encourage plenty of sleep.Teens need more sleep than adults to function optimallyup to 9-10 hours per night. Make sure your teen isnt staying up until all hours at the expense of much-needed, mood-supporting rest.
If You Suspect Your Teen Is Depressed
Depression is such a persuasive beast, and it can convince anyone its holding onto that nothing will make a difference. This hopelessness is a classic symptom of depression, and the very thing that gets in the way of healing from it. If you suspect your teen might have depression, the first step is getting a diagnosis so everyone knows what theyre dealing with. A doctor or mental health professional can help with this. Depression doesnt always need medication, but it might. Having the support of a loving adult will be important for any teen who is trying to find their way through depression. If that supportive and loving adult is you, here are some things you can do to help your teen strengthen and heal:
Signs Of Depression In Children
Symptoms of depression in children often include:
- sadness, or a low mood that does not go away
- being irritable or grumpy all the time
- not being interested in things they used to enjoy
- feeling tired and exhausted a lot of the time
Your child may also:
- have trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual
- not be able to concentrate
- interact less with friends and family
- be indecisive
- eat less than usual or overeat
- have big changes in weight
- seem unable to relax or be more lethargic than usual
- talk about feeling guilty or worthless
- feel empty or unable to feel emotions
- have thoughts about suicide or self-harming
- actually self-harm, for example, cutting their skin or taking an overdose
Some children have problems with anxiety as well as depression. Some also have physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches.
Problems at school can be a sign of depression in children and young people and so can problem behaviour.
Older children who are depressed may misuse drugs or alcohol.
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Treating A Depressed Teenager
Fortunately, we now have decades of evidence-based data that makes depression a treatable medical condition. Your physician may recommend psychotherapy and sometimes combine it with medications.
Psychotherapy treatments are a form of talk therapy and have proven to be extremely effective for depression. Most teenagers struggle with understanding and naming their feelings. This inability to process their emotions creates a pressure cooker inside them with no outlet. A trained therapist can give your child a safe and non-judgemental space to identify and express their feelings. Furthermore, treatments like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can arm your child with skills they can use for a lifetime to replace unhelpful thoughts with positive messages to improve their perspective of everyday life occurrences.
In addition to helping your child access the appropriate treatment for their condition, here are a few other actions you can take to parent a depressed teenager back toward the light.
Let Him Know Hes Not Alone
Let him know hes not the only guy who is facing depression and that you are also not the only person who will support him. If there are other close friends or family members that can help, let him know he can reach out to any of them that there is a community of people behind him and a community of other men who have also successfully fought depression.
Show him our site and walk through it together. Visit our Youre Not Alone page to read more articles and over 40 stories from real men who have battled and overcome depression. Suggesting he take our Self Check may also help him realize how much depression may be affecting his life.
- Plan to do some things together. Its important that he doesnt isolate himself from others in his life.
- Going for a walk is a great way to be active and provide an opportunity to discuss things in a less intensive context.
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Even When They Dont Want Your Help
- When a teenager is depressed, parents often feel frustrated and unable to help.
- Teens frequently rebuff supportive overtures from their parents because they feel misunderstood, judged, and helpless.
- Parents can help their teen regain happiness by understanding their teen’s perspective, taking a big picture view, and finding a therapist.
Her grades are falling but she just doesnt seem to care. I tell her to turn them in, but she just screams at me to leave her alone and to get out of her room. She has 15 missing assignments and we have to nag her constantly to get even half of them done. Im worried because shes failing and these grades will significantly impact her options for college.
His room is a disaster and he never picks anything up. When I ask him to, he says hell do it but all he does is lay in bed all day. He totally lacks regard for his father and I and all the help we try to provide him.
As a child psychologist who specializes in working with depressed teens, Ive seen many parents who feel helpless. Their son, or daughter, who just a few years before was happy and eager to be by their side, has gone AWOL. Instead, they now live with a teen who is irritable, withdrawn, self-conscious, lethargic, and unmotivated. Parents feel torn between the intense frustration, worry, and sense of impotency this creates. Despite their best and sometimes desperate attempts, they cannot find a way to help their teen.
How Does Therapy Help Teens Who Are Depressed
Therapy helps teens explore and resolve their depression. In therapy, teens may learn to:
- feel understood and closer to others
- talk about their feelings, thoughts, and events that matter to them
- manage strong emotions and moods
- reduce harmful or risky behaviors
- regain energy and motivation
- improve their emotions, thoughts, and outlook
- learn and practice coping skills
- restore healthy family bonds or boundaries, as needed
- build on their inner strengths
- find hope and healing, increase their joy and optimism
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Teenage Depression: Things To Try At Home
If your child is suffering from depression, there are important things you can do to help in your everyday family life.
Physical health and wellbeing
- Encourage your child to make healthy food and drink choices. Make sure you have a variety of healthy foods in the cupboard and fridge, and offer tasty and nutritious options at meals.
- Get your child to do some regular physical activity. Staying physically active can help to improve your childs mental health. It might be as simple as taking a 10-minute walk every day to start with.
- Encourage your child to get enough sleep. If your child is having trouble sleeping, try not to let them nap during the day regardless of how tired they feel. Help your child make time for relaxing activities before bedtime and encourage your child to avoid screen time in the hour before bed.
- If you can, make sure your child avoids alcohol and other drugs. Using these to dull sadness or pain can make your childs problems worse.
Relationships and feelings
Tip : Connect With Your Troubled Teen
It may seem hard to believegiven your childs anger or indifference towards youbut teens still crave love, approval, and acceptance from their parents. Positive face-to-face connection is the quickest, most efficient way to reduce stress by calming and focusing the nervous system. That means you probably have a lot more influence over your teen than you think.
To open the lines of communication:
Be aware of your own stress levels. If youre angry or upset, now is not the time to try to communicate with your teen. Wait until youre calm and energized before starting a conversation. Youre likely to need all the patience and positive energy you can muster.
Be there for your teen. An offer to chat with your teen over coffee will probably be greeted with a sarcastic put-down or dismissive gesture, but its important to show that youre available. Insist on sitting down for mealtimes together with no TV, phones, or other distractions. Look at your teen when you speak and invite your teen to look at you. Dont get frustrated if your efforts are greeted by nothing more than monosyllabic grunts or shrugs. You may have to eat a lot of dinners in silence, but when your teen does want to open up, they know theyll always have the opportunity to do so.
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Worried About Your Teenager
It can be difficult for parents to tell whether their teenagers are just “being teens” or if there is something more serious going on.
Many of the things you may notice, such as changing moods, can often be attributed to normal teenage behaviour. However, it can be helpful to know when there may be signs of a more serious problem.
If youre worried about your teenagers behaviour or general wellbeing you should consider:
- speaking to your teenager about your worries
- getting advice from a GP
Its important to know that many parents and carers find teenage behaviour difficult to understand or challenging to cope with.
Noticeable symptoms of depression in teenagers can include:
- continuous low mood or sadness as well as frequent tearfulness
- voicing/showing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- being irritable and intolerant of others
- little or no enjoyment of things that were once interesting to them
- increasing social isolation
- disturbed sleep patterns
Read more about depression.
Why Is My Child Depressed
Things that increase the risk of depression in children include:
- family difficulties
- physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- a family history of depression or other mental health problems
Sometimes depression is triggered by 1 difficult event, such as parents separating, a bereavement or problems with school or other children.
Often it’s caused by a mixture of things. For example, your child may have a tendency to get depression and also experienced some difficult life events.
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What Is The Treatment For Depression In Teens
There are several evidence-based treatments that work for depression in teens. They include these types of talk therapy:
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- interpersonal therapy
- attachment-based family therapy
Each of these therapies targets different aspects of depression. Therapists might use a few of these in a teen’s treatment. The details of treatment depend on what the teen needs and how severe their symptoms are.
Therapists plan each teen’s treatment after first doing a careful exam. They will talk with you and your teen to explain the treatment they recommend. Sometimes, doctors also prescribe medicines to help teens who are depressed.
Depression In Teens Vs Adults
Depression in teens can look very different from depression in adults. The following signs and symptoms are more common in teenagers than in their adult counterparts:
Irritable or angry mood. As noted, irritability, rather than sadness, is often the predominant mood in depressed teens. A depressed teenager may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated, or prone to angry outbursts.
Unexplained aches and pains. Depressed teens frequently complain about physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches. If a thorough physical exam does not reveal a medical cause, these aches and pains may indicate depression.
Extreme sensitivity to criticism. Depressed teens are plagued by feelings of worthlessness, making them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection, and failure. This is a particular problem for over-achievers.
Withdrawing from some, but not all people. While adults tend to isolate themselves when depressed, teenagers usually keep up at least some friendships. However, teens with depression may socialize less than before, pull away from their parents, or start hanging out with a different crowd.
Is it depression or teenage growing pains?
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Keys For Communicating With Your Teenage Son
Often, teenage sons find it difficult to put their emotions into words. A national survey commissioned by Plan International USA polled over 1,000 teens and found that a third of boys think that society expects them to be a man, suck it up, and hide their feelings when they feel sad or scared. It can be very difficult when your teenage son wont talk to you about their feelings and you have to find a way to start the conversation.
Therefore, raising teenage sons includes recognizing that they may not feel comfortable sharing their innermost thoughts. As a result, parents of teens can get frustrated and feel ignored. Instead, when dealing with teenage boys, try the following approaches for how to connect with your teenage son through conversation.
What If My Son Says He Is Thinking About Hurting Himself
Anyone who has thoughts or feelings about hurting themselves should be taken seriously and should get professional help immediately. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in teens and young adults, but can usually be prevented with urgent treatment.
Its important to know that most people who feel suicidal will usually tell someone before they kill themselves, or make an attempt to kill themselves.
Teenagers may injure themselves by cutting or with drugs or alcohol without intending to kill themselves. However, self-injury is serious and should always be taken as a sign that the teen is feeling overwhelmed and cannot cope with his feelings. If a teen is harming himself or says that he thinks about killing himself, he needs immediate intervention which should include an evaluation by a mental health professional.
If you are unable to obtain urgent care from a mental health provider, take him to the nearest emergency room or call 911.
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Keep The Focus On Your Teen
During this process, remember to keep one thing in mind: Its not your breakup. While you might have adored your teens former boyfriend or girlfriend , try to keep your feelings out of this as much as possible.
Teen love is a rocky road, and you dont want to be caught in a tricky spot if the two reconcile down the path. Plus, you don’t want your child to feel burdened about having to help you deal with your feelings as well as their own.
Your focus should be on helping your child cope and learn from this experience. Most likely they’ll emerge stronger, more confident, and more mature. For now, remind them how smart, kind, loved, and wonderful they are. Tell them you love them.
Tip : Take Care Of Yourself
As a parent, you may find yourself focusing all your energy and attention on your depressed teen and neglecting your own needs and the needs of other family members. However, its extremely important that you continue to take care of yourself during this difficult time.
Above all, this means reaching out for much needed support. You cant do everything on your own so enlist the help of family and friends. Having your own support system in place will help you stay healthy and positive as you work to help your teen.
Children and Mental Health: Is This Just a Stage? Treatment of mental disorders in children, including depression.
Depression support, suicide prevention help
In the U.S.: Find DBSA Chapters/Support Groups or call the NAMI Helpline for support and referrals at 1-800-950-6264
UK: Find Depression support groups in-person and online or call the Mind Infoline at 0300 123 3393
Australia: Find Support Groups and regional resources or call the SANE Help Centre at 1800 18 7263
Canada: Call Mood Disorders Society of Canada at 519-824-5565
India: Call the Vandrevala Foundation Helpline at 1860 2662 345 or 1800 2333 330
Suicide prevention help
In the U.S.: Call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
UK and Ireland: Call Samaritans UK at 116 123
Australia: Call Lifeline Australia at 13 11 14
Other countries: Visit IASP or International Suicide Hotlines to find a helpline near you
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Common Reactions To Learning Your Teen Has Depression
Its heartbreaking to see your child struggling. You may feel powerless if they dont want to talk to you about what is happening for them. Your support is vital, but you may not be able to directly influence their mood. This doesnt mean that youre a bad parent! In these circumstances, your own mental health is particularly important and it may be helpful to talk to a professional about what is going on for you and ways to look after yourself, so that youre in the best place to support your child.
It might help you to think of depression as being like a broken arm: your child has a broken arm they are not a broken arm. Likewise, your child has depression they are not depression.
Just as you wouldnt hesitate to seek help for your childs broken arm, confident that they will heal, having the same attitude towards depression will help your child realise that there is no need to feel ashamed, afraid or embarrassed. Stigma and misunderstanding about depression can stop people from getting the help they need imagine not getting help for a broken arm! Be positive and optimistic that you will find the help your child needs for depression. Be prepared that it might take some time, but feel confident that you will both get to a place where your child can be well again.