Parenting Teens with Depression
Depression in teens is rampant in our world today.
Depression in teens is rampant in our world today. According to Youth Data 2021 from Mental Health America, 13.84% of 12-17 year-olds experienced at least one major depressive episode this year. Left untreated, teen depression is more likely to develop into depression in adulthood.
In fact, by the time they are adults, about 20% of all teens will have experienced depression.
Things have also taken a turn for the worse during the COVID-19 pandemic; Depression and anxiety in youths have doubled in comparison to pre-pandemic numbers. In 2019, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a 40% increase from 2009 in high schoolers who have persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Recognizing and treating teen depression early is absolutely crucial in preventing their pain and even suicide.
The most important thing to do is simply to listen. Listen well. And this is not a skill that many parents possess automatically. To even be able to recognize that a teen is feeling depressed or that something is bothering them, they need to feel like they can talk to you. No one wants to talk to someone who is judgemental, distracted, patronizing, or self-obsessed. Great listening skills are key.
Getting teens to talk to you is also something that needs to be done consistently over time. Wanting a teen to speak to you suddenly, when you haven't been listening or paying attention to them properly for months, won't work.
Some tips to support good communication for parents of teens, that I have collected through my work with teenagers are:
Take time each day to be present with your teen. This can be at dinnertime while driving to school, or even while having a coffee break together with them after school. Just be there, maintain good eye contact, put away your phone and other electronics. Ask open questions and show interest without being pushy for specific information. Listening for a while to what may seem mundane and pointless to you makes the teen feel listened to, seen, and makes them more likely to open up later on.
Ask specific questions that show you have been listening and interested in what is going on in their lives and what is important to them. For instance, instead of “How was your day?”, try asking “How did your speech go in history class today?”, or “What happened during your session today with the university counselor?”
Crucial is to not freak out and judge what they are saying. Sometimes parents react to what a teen is saying, especially if it is meant to provoke them. Just listen and stay calm.
Also, remember that boys talk more when they are doing another activity with you. During fishing, cooking together, or even just going to the supermarket, they may open up more. This feels less confrontational to them.
If a teen does not want to talk or seems moody, give them some space. Maybe they are hungry, maybe they are tired, maybe it's their hormones. Try to just offer time and your presence later.
If they express to you that they are feeling depressed or display any of the following symptoms (Feeling sad, frequent crying spells, irritability, feels of hopelessness and worthlessness, overly self-critical, self-esteem issues, self-harm, sleep disturbances, problems with their schoolwork, physical symptoms, poor personal hygiene, inability to concentrate, changes in eating habits, frustration, anger, drug and alcohol abuse) for more than two weeks, take it seriously and get them professional help, preferably from a psychologist or counselor that has experience in working with teens. Expressing a wish to die or commit suicide should be taken very seriously and professional help should be sought immediately.
Above all, do not try and live your life through your children. Let them be who they are and support them in their own feelings and desires. Only then will they be able to know themselves well, find a passion, and feel motivated. They need to be supported on their path, not one that you have chosen for them, albeit with good intentions. A common contributing factor to depression is when teens feel pressure from their parents to be different than they are. One can not expect a teenager or indeed any individual to feel happy, secure, or supported when they are constantly trying to please others or can only be accepted when changing who they are or what they want.
In conclusion, the best advice I have for parents of teenagers is to remember that kids look to parents for stability and for a safe place to go to when feeling down or confused. It is our job as parents to be a “container” for all of the child's emotions when they come to us with them. If we can remain calm and in control and not freak out when they say something scary or confide in us about something shocking, they know they can count on us to be there for them no matter what.
This takes away some of their stress and reassures them. We want to be this safe and accepting “container” for them. If your teenager knows depression is real, treatable, taken seriously, and that there are people that want to help them, this is invaluable on their road to recovery.