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Published on December 11, 2020

How To Help a Teen With Depression (The Parent’s Guide)

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How To Help a Teen With Depression (The Parent’s Guide)

There’s no denying it—raising a teen is difficult. But raising a teen who is depressed is even more challenging. Depression in adolescents is a serious mental illness—one that can end with severe repercussions.[1] Yes, depression can occur at any time, but for teens—who are already facing peer pressure and/or parental pressure, all while undergoing hormonal changes—it can hit and hit hard. This leads to many parents asking: how can I help a teen with depression?

Understanding Teen Depression

Parents dealing with the stress of a depressed adolescent have their hands full. For some, it may sometimes be tough to differentiate between a teen who is depressed and one who is appropriately moody. Frequently, a melancholy mood can be written off as, “Oh, he’s just going through puberty!” or, “Every teenager suffers from teen angst at some point.”

It’s important to try and understand the differences, however. Teen depression is serious and should not be considered as some sort of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as something that can have long-lasting consequences. In many instances, teen depression can be alleviated with medication and/or talk therapy, among other methods.

Because it’s not easy—as a regular parent—to diagnose depression, a professional assessment is the best course of action. In that way, your teen can be diagnosed appropriately and provided with the help they need.

Teen depression is not something that you can fix with a warm batch of chocolate chip cookies or hot chicken soup. Burying your head in the sand and thinking, “they’ll get over it; they just need a little time,” could delay proper treatment and worsen the depression.

Warning Signs of Depression

Depression can radically affect your child’s personality. You might notice sadness, tearfulness, anger, and/or despair, without any logical explanation. Also, your teen may start rebelling against your authority—talking back when they never used to.

Teenagers from all walks of life are affected by depression. In fact, one out of five adolescents suffers from this mental illness.[2] And although depression is treatable, most of the kids who suffer do not receive the help they need.

Besides providing your teen with lots of love, guidance, and support, what can you—as a parent—do if you notice that your teen is possibly depressed?

Before you can help your teen with depression, you first have to know how to spot it. It is not easy, but some signs can give you a good idea as to whether or not your teen is suffering from depression.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the warning signs of depression.

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1. Low Self-Esteem

Listen to what your teen is saying. Pay close attention. Are they self-deprecating? Are they beating themselves up unnecessarily?

When your child is depressed, it can trigger and intensify feelings of ugliness or shame. They might start talking about being a failure or feeling undeserving of love. They may mention how fat or ugly they are and how they don’t have any friends, etc. This is a red flag indicating low self-esteem.

2. Abuse of Drugs and/or Alcohol

Some teens, when depressed, will start self-medicating to put an end to their suffering. They may find this relief in the form of drugs and/or alcohol.[3] Self-medicating can be harmful and may only worsen your teen’s depression.

According to an article by Nancy Schimelpfening, “because alcohol is easy to obtain and socially acceptable, it is a very popular means of self-medication for depression. Despite the fact that it is illegal for young teens to purchase alcohol, they are often able to get it through their parents’ liquor cabinets, unscrupulous store clerks, or older friends who purchase it for them.”[4]

Not only does alcohol and drug abuse not rid teens of their depression, but it also only makes it worse.

3. Social Media Addiction

Your teen may start relying more heavily on their smartphones. This is one way they feel they can connect with others and feel as though they’re escaping their feelings of despair. Unfortunately, instead of creating bonds and actual friends, it’s the isolation that becomes more significant from these empty and meaningless relationships. Instead of feeling better, your teen’s depression will intensify.

According to a study, a link has been established with “the use of social media to depression, anxiety, poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem, inattention, and hyperactivity—often in teens and adolescents.”[5]

4, Academic Difficulties

If your teen used to be a good student but now starts missing classes, showing frustration, and lacking the necessary energy to keep prior good grades from dropping to mediocre or failing grades, then this is a huge sign to watch out for.

According to Paradigm Treatment, “there’s a clear relationship between adolescent depression and how well a teen does in school. In fact, lower grades might be the first noticeable sign of depression.”[6]

5. Impulsive and Careless Behavior

If your teen is depressed, they may start engaging in impulsive and careless behavior that could place them in harm’s way. This is very serious, so if there are signs of visible recklessness, address them immediately. Risky behaviors can include drinking and driving, unsafe sex, self-harm, suicide ideation, etc.

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6. Running Away

Running away is a loud cry for help. Your teen may feel so stuck and helpless that running away, in their minds, becomes the only way to get away from themselves. They are trying to escape something that cannot be escaped—their minds.

Running away can lead to numerous troubles for your teen. If you notice any of the above signs, you may want to open up a dialogue about how they’re feeling. Maybe start by asking, “Have you ever felt so badly that you’ve wanted to just get away from everything?”

7. Violent Behavior

Sometimes—and this happens more with boys than it does with girls—there are signs of aggression and violence. If your teen was never violent but all of the sudden starts to show signs of aggression, then appropriate action needs to be taken.[7]

8. Suicide Ideation or Attempt

This is perhaps the most urgent. If your teen is talking—even joking—about suicide, take it seriously. Immediate intervention is needed. Of course, if there’s already been an attempt, the cards are on the table. Therapeutic help with possible medications may be the solution or, at least, a step in the right direction.

You might believe that talking about suicide will cause it to happen. That is not the case. In fact, talking about suicide will actually help your child recognize that there’s a serious problem and that it’s okay to ask for help.

Additional Warning Signs

Teen depression can have far-reaching consequences. The more prepared you are as a parent to catch the early warning signs, the better. By addressing the symptoms promptly, you’ll be able to provide them with the necessary help.

Here are some additional signs to watch out for:

  • Loss of interest in their once loved activities: If your child was active and involved in sports or other group activities and now no longer shows any interest, then this is something to pay attention to.
  • Visible changes in eating or sleeping habits: If your teen is either eating too much or not enough, there’s a problem brewing. It’s the same with sleep. If you notice either too much sleeping or too little, take action.
  • Frequent crying: If your teen starts regularly crying for no apparent reason, again, this needs to be addressed.
  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness: A depressed teen will more than likely feel sad and hopeless. They will have an apathetic attitude If not addressed, this could lead to suicide ideation or an actual suicide attempt.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family: Perhaps your teen was very social, previously participating with friends and family. Now, you notice that they are withdrawn and shying away from social activities.

Factors Causing Teen Depression

You might be wondering what causes teen depression. No one can specifically say exactly what causes depression, but several factors have been identified.

According to Kathryn Rudlin, LCSW, these are:[8]

  • Brain chemistry: Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that carry signals to other parts of your brain and body. When these chemicals are abnormal or impaired, the function of nerve receptors and nerve systems changes, leading to depression.
  • Hormones: Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression.
  • Inherited traits: Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives—such as a parent or grandparent—also have the condition.
  • Early childhood trauma: Traumatic events during childhood, such as physical or emotional abuse or loss of a parent, may cause changes in the brain that make a person more susceptible to depression.
  • Learned patterns of negative thinking: Teen depression may be linked to learning to feel helpless—rather than learning to feel capable of finding solutions for life’s challenges.

What to Do When Your Teen Is Depressed

You’ve read over the above list and are pretty sure that your teen is depressed. Now what? Here are some things you can do to help your teen with depression.

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1. Talk to Your Teen

Find out as much as possible by asking lots of questions. For example, “I’ve noticed that your schoolwork is suffering. You want to talk about it?” or “I’m concerned that you’ve been spending a lot of time in your room and not going out with your friends? Is there something with which I can help?”

By opening up a dialogue, you’re going to get important information that can help you put what’s been happening into some kind of context.

2. Take Your Teen to a Mental Health Professional

You may or may not be on the right track suspecting your teen is depressed. Like I mentioned, sometimes, it’s difficult to decipher your teen’s mood. That’s why a professional—therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor—can either confirm or allay your suspicions and either point you in the right direction to get your child help or tell you to keep an eye on things and give it a little more time.

3. Explain Your Reasons for Concern.

You may want to express your concerns to your teen and the reasons why you’re having them. For instance, you might say, “I am concerned that you might be depressed. Here’s why…” Then, list the reasons. Furthermore, you can say, “If you are feeling depressed, I just want you to know that there’s help out there.”

Putting words to what your teen is feeling will validate their experience. Often, having words to our experiences can be a great relief.

4. Consider Medications

The right medication can go a long way in easing your teen’s depression. You may also want to explain that depression is not something to be ashamed of; it can happen to anyone. And with the right help, all can be right with the world again.

Note: While medications can help a great deal, you have to become very savvy about its possible side-effects, if there are any. Sometimes, the solution comes with a price. You want to make sure to talk to your doctor and make sure the price is not too high.

5. Psychotherapy

There are two therapeutic approaches (among many others) that seem to really help with teen depression: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT).

CBT deals with thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, while IPT focuses on social relationships and communication issues.[9][10]

6. Lifestyle Adjustments

Incorporating changes to your teen’s lifestyle could make a big difference in helping your teen with depression. For example, make sure they’re getting the proper nutrition and eliminate junk food as much as possible. Implement a sleep schedule. Getting enough sleep is crucial for anyone, but for a depressed teen, it can make all the difference in the world.

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If possible, get your teen outdoors. Getting sun and doing some physical activity can alleviate depression. In fact, there are experiential type therapies that incorporate dance, art, music, hiking, boxing, etc., which are really helpful as well.

7. Reach Out to Friends and Family

Perhaps there is a good friend you can contact or a family member to whom your teen feels close. Getting them involved may be a very positive step. Their presence may create a sense of normalcy and help with their feelings of isolation.

As a parent, you need to be involved in your teen’s process. Once it is determined that your adolescent is indeed depressed, then your ongoing involvement will keep things moving forward and on track to getting them the necessary help.

Be your child’s advocate!

8. Group Therapy

Having a safe and structured venue to address issues with peers—led by a skilled and loving professional—creates the opportunity to glean some insight into their situation and to learn and incorporate new life strategies. It’s a great help to have support from peers that are experiencing similar feelings. It eliminates the loneliness and the idea that they’re the only ones suffering.

Final Thoughts

Despite the seriousness of depression, it is very treatable. The guidelines above help you identify depression earlier than later, giving your teen the best chance for recovery.

Stay active in your child’s life. Whatever course of action is taken, make sure to follow through. This is the best chance to get the foremost results for your teen.

Knowing how to help a teen with depression is not an easy task. It is one that takes a great deal of patience. Every little positive step is to be celebrated, and any setback, seen as just that—a setback, should not be confused with failure.

As a parent with a depressed teen, you may feel quite drained. It requires a lot of energy to give your teen the help they need—that’s why self-care is important. If you have no energy, how are you going to be able to help your teen? Feelings of frustration, despair, rejection, exhaustion, etc., can seem like serious blows. But take them in stride. Nothing lasts forever.

You and your teen can make it through this bumpy phase in life. The tools are always available. Use them!

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And remember to keep the love flowing. That can go a long way to healing a soul.

More Tips on How to Help a Teen With Depression

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Rossana Snee

Rossana is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. She aspires to motivate, to inspire, and to awaken your best self!

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

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Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

In today’s chaotic world, having family time isn’t always easy. It can get pretty hard to coordinate schedules, especially if the family is large. Life demands that we work, attend school, nurture friendships, hobbies, etc. All of those things are extremely time-consuming and important—but so is spending time with your family.

Why is family time so important? Because we all need love and support, and a good, strong family can provide that regularly. For children, spending time with their family helps shape them into good, responsible adults, improve their mental health, and develop strong core values.

There are many positive effects of spending time with your family. My family and I, for instance (and this includes grandchildren as well), meet every Tuesday night for dinner and games. My older son and I take turns cooking. This gives all of us a chance to try some new recipes. After dinner, we play games. And without fail, they inspire competitiveness and laughter. As family night has evolved, the grandkids have invited their friends over as well, creating the need for more chairs but also expanding our circle of fun.

Aside from the obvious fun and games, there are other reasons why spending time with your family is paramount. In this article, I will provide you with multiple reasons why spending time with your family regularly is a win-win. And then, I will lay out some ways on how to do it.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important

Here are six reasons why it’s important to spend time with your family.

1. Provides the Opportunity to Bond

When you spend time together as a family—talking about your day, your highs, your lows—it fosters communication. As parents, it gives you the chance to listen to your children, to hear them out, to learn about what’s going on in their world. It also provides you with the opportunity to use life situations as teaching moments.

Before our Tuesday night dinner/game nights, my family used to see each other pretty regularly but not consistently, especially the grandkids. Our family night changed all that. Now, it’s guaranteed that the grandchildren, along with some of their friends, will be there. Not only do I get to find out what’s been happening in their lives, but they also get to know us better. It’s creating memories they can treasure forever, as well as modeling the Get-Together tradition for when they eventually have families of their own.

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“Spending time partaking in everyday family leisure activities has been associated with greater emotional bonding within families.”[1]

2. Teaches the Value of Family

Taking the time to be with your family lets your children know they are valued—that spending time together is a priority. I know that in today’s world, both parents are busy as both usually working. What better way to let your children know they are loved than by carving out time each week to spend with them?

According to Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., “words like honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage are core to centuries of religious, philosophical, and family beliefs. Use them and others to express and reinforce your family values. Teach children the behaviors that flow from these principles. Use quotes to ignite meaningful dinner conversations and encourage kids to talk about these values.”[2]

3. Enhances Mental Well-Being

Spending that quality time together gives your children a safe platform in which to express themselves, ask questions about things that are bothering them, or talk about their day and things they’ve learned. I know that my 9-year old granddaughter can’t wait until it’s her turn to talk about her day. She usually goes on and on and has to be stopped to give everyone else a chance to talk about their goings-on.

“Research shows the quality of family relationships is more important than their size or composition. Whoever the family is made up of, they can build strong, positive relationships that promote wellbeing and support children and young people’s mental health.”[3]

For children, having the opportunity to seek advice from parents they trust—as well as being able to have a sounding board and help with problem-solving—is priceless. In addition, being able to voice their opinions and be heard—and to feel like what they have to say matters—is an esteem-builder. All of these can have a very impactful positive effect on their well-being.

4. Helps the Child Feel Loved

How do you think a child feels knowing their parents want to spend time with them—talking, sharing experiences, playing games, listening to them? It will make them feel as though they are important, and a child that feels important is happier and more apt to thrive. Setting aside chores or work to spend time with your children demonstrates that they’re essential—that they matter. What a gift to give your child!

“If a child has your undivided attention, it signals that they are loved and important to you. This can be further nurtured by experiencing joyful activities together, as it demonstrates that you want to spend time with your children over and above all of the daily demands.”[4]

5. Creates a Safe Environment

If you regularly spend time with your children, you are also creating an atmosphere of trust. The more trust they have, the more likely they are to share with you what’s going on in their world. As they get older, you’re going to want to know. Negative influences can show up at any time, but if you’ve always been there for your child, they are more apt to come to you and ask for your advice.

Spending time together generates familiarity and feelings of being supported. When a child feels safe and comfortable, they’re more likely to open up. This is one way to get to know your child and know what’s on their minds. Are they okay? Do they need your guidance? If so, how?

6. Reduces Stress

This is significant. We all suffer from stress at one point or another in our lives. Spending time with family helps alleviate that stress. It’s an opportunity to talk things out, get feedback, and maybe brainstorm for a solution to the problem that is causing the stress.

According to Brandy Drzymkowski, “During the holidays, your closest five people probably shifts to family and friends. You may even get to see loved ones who live far away. Good news! This can actually help lower your stress levels. Studies show ‘face-to-face interaction…counteracts the body’s defensive ‘fight-or-flight’ response.’ In other words, quality time spent with loved ones is nature’s stress reliever.”[5]

So, now that you know some of the benefits, what are some ideas for making family time happen?

How to Make Family Time Happen

Here are four things you can do to make family time happen and spend more time with them.

1. Family Dinners

This, as I said above, is a wonderful way to spend time together. While you’re having dinner, you have the chance to discuss things that are going on in your lives—the ups, the downs, and everywhere in between. It’s like having a buffer against life’s challenges.

Aside from that, eating dinner together has many additional benefits. Studies have shown that for kids who eat regularly with their families, there is less risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression.[6]

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“Our belief in the ‘magic’ of family dinners is grounded in research on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular family meals.” It further states, “We recommend combining food, fun and conversation at mealtimes because those three ingredients are the recipe for a warm, positive family dinner—the type of environment that makes these scientifically proven benefits possible.”[7]

According to Parenting NI, “children and adolescents who spend more time with their parents are less likely to get involved in risky behavior. According to studies done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse via Arizona State University, teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco, nearly twice as likely to use alcohol and one and a half times more likely to use marijuana.”[8]

As you can see, there are multiple benefits to spending time with each other routinely. You can’t go wrong with this family activity.

2.  Regular Movie Nights

This is another fun event, although, from personal experience, I have to caution that choosing a movie that everyone wants to see is not easy. So, give yourselves plenty of time so you don’t spend two hours searching for a movie, and then end up watching no movie at all because the night is practically over. Try and choose a movie before the day, if possible.

Afterward, open it up for discussion. Ask questions pertinent to the movie. What do you think of ABC? Should they have done that? Would you have done something differently? There are so many questions you can ask to spark a conversation and keep the night going.

3. Game Night

This is another occasion for great fun. If you have a competitive spirit, it makes it even more fun. There are numerous games out there—Balderdash, Pictionary, Apples to Apples, Charades, to name a few—that can create fun havoc. All I can say is, on game nights, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s okay if you lose the game. The fun is in being together, laughing, debating, and having a good time.

In addition, “Playing board games is great for children for many reasons besides the obvious; it’s fun to play games! Age appropriate games can help children to think strategically, solve problems creatively, work on pattern recognition and build simple math skills. They also help children develop social skills such as following rules, taking turns, and graceful winning or losing. Additionally, a family game night provides an opportunity for children to bond with siblings, parents and family members as well as peers. It can promote tradition building and establish a fun routine.”[9]

So, go find your family a game and start having fun!

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4. Sharing a Hobby

If you and one of your kids like to do the same things, do it more often. For example, my oldest son and his teenage son go on long bike rides together on the weekends. Not only do they get to exercise, but they also get to talk and look at beautiful sceneries. They’ve also incorporated cooking into their routine. They plan the meal, shop, and prepare—activities that bring them closer together.

Sharing a hobby is a great way to bring family members together. It bonds people in amazing ways. According to Alison Ratner Mayer, LICSW, “One of the easiest and most important ways to build a child’s self-esteem is to spend time with them doing something not only that they enjoy but something that you also enjoy. There is a special magic that happens between a parent and a child when they share a mutually beloved activity. It sends the message to the child that their parents are having fun, true, honest, real fun, with them.”[10]

Final Thoughts

Spending time with the family is an investment. It is an investment in the happiness, well-being, and security of that system. It can also serve as a way to break out of the daily rut and the constant worldly demands, while at the same time, building a strong family unit.

Even though it isn’t always easy to find the time, finding the time is key to staying close and to providing and receiving love and support. There is no greater gift than the gift of time. That’s what we all seem to be missing nowadays. So, in giving that gift consistently, everyone feels loved and appreciated.

The family that takes the time to interact regularly is typically happy. They know they are part of a tribe, and that’s essential in today’s chaotic world. To know that there are people whom you can count on—people who will have your back in times of need—is invaluable.

Now, go and plan something plan with your family, if you haven’t already.

Featured photo credit: Jimmy Dean via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Pittsburgh Parent: Spending Time Together—Benefits of Family Time
[2] Roots of Action: Integrity: How Families Teach and Live Their Values
[3] Beyond Blue: Healthy Families
[4] Esperance Anglican Community School: The importance of family time
[5] Brandy Drzymkowski: Spending Time With Loved Ones Reduces Stress
[6] Harvard Graduate School of Education: Harvard EdCast: The Benefit of Family Mealtime
[7] The Family Dinner Project: BENEFITS OF FAMILY DINNERS
[8] Parenting NI: The Importance of Spending Time Together
[9] WNY Children: Family Game Night- The Benefits of Game Play
[10] Child Therapy Boston: The Benefits of Sharing a Hobby With Your Child

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