There can be no question that many are relieved to find the year 2020 coming to an end after the challenges many of us have faced in light of the global pandemic, increased isolation, and disruption to our sense of normalcy. I think of my own experience trying to navigate uncertainty and massive disruption in my “normal” life, this year in particular. I have gone from working with colleagues and clients in-person to being limited to a video chat for my human interaction. I have faced fear and anxiety about my loved ones becoming sick or losing jobs and have had to engage in many difficult conversations about the current social and political climate. This has left me feeling depressed and hopeless at times, often wondering when hope for some normalcy will return. Despite this year being particularly challenging for many of us, it has not been my first experience with depression. In my teen years, I struggled with depression and anxiety, which at the time felt like a life sentence of misery I was not equipped to handle and heal from. Through a combination of therapy, medication, and family support, I found a way to treat my symptoms and find a better quality of life. There were often days where I didn’t see myself ever feeling happy, but now being on the other side and knowing that there are ways to seek help and find support, I can take these moments of the last year and remind myself that I can get through this by utilizing the tools that had been helpful for me in the past.
As an adult with this experience, it’s easier for me to see now, that there is hope for a happier and healthier future, one where I can resume some level of the life I enjoyed before. But, this isn’t the case for everyone. Teens and tweens are among those who have seen the most disruption in their day-to-day lives with the transition to virtual learning, increased isolation, and a lack of extracurricular activities and outlets. Some parents may even notice an increase in moodiness or feeling down, withdrawing from family and friends, and trouble concentrating or lack of interest in usual hobbies. If you are noticing these changes, you may be asking yourself what you can do to help or support them or how to tell the difference between typical responses to change and transition and clinical depression. If you are feeling this way, you may be wondering how to cope with the increased feelings of hopelessness or isolation. We now have more access to the lives of teenagers who are homebound with school and social distancing and may be seeing how our loved ones are coping with immense stress. This can be difficult and leave one with a sense of helplessness, wondering how to be supportive during these times.
According to research done by the CDC, the number of children and teens diagnosed with depression has increased in the last 15 years, with the likelihood of those diagnoses increasing as the child enters their teen years. Mental health in teens should be taken seriously, as it can lead to impaired functioning in the way one thinks, feels, and behaves. It can contribute to a disconnect in relationships and isolation from others. Despite the issues that can manifest during a depressive episode, it doesn’t indicate a personal weakness or failure and can be treated and managed long-term. As a parent of a loved one struggling, being armed with information and resources can be the best way to support a teen struggling with depression.
How to Identify Depression in Teens and Adolescents:
What should you be looking out for in your teen that may indicate a depressive episode? There may be both emotional, physical, and behavioral changes that you will notice in them that may indicate Depression.
Emotional Changes May Look Like:
- Sadness and crying spells
- Hopelessness or feelings of despair
- Irritability and annoyed moods
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal thoughts or ideation
Physical Changes May Look Like:
- Sleeping too much or too little (insomnia)
- Increase or decrease in appetite
- Fatigue and low energy
- Aches and pains in the body
Behavioral Changes May Look Like:
- Social isolation and withdrawal from others
- Increased conflict with family and friends
- Engaging in risky behavior or acting out
- Taking less care of self and personal hygiene
When To Seek Help:
If you are unsure if these behaviors are normal for your loved one, talk to them about it. While some may feel supported and able to manage these changes in their emotional and physical state, others may need additional support and intervention by a mental health professional. Seeking counseling or support from a doctor can feel intimidating but is nothing to be ashamed of. As a parent or guardian, you may notice that these symptoms are interfering with your teen’s daily life. A medical doctor, therapist, or school counselor can be great resources of support if you are feeling concerned about the safety and wellbeing of your teen. If left untreated, these symptoms and signs may worsen or progress and become less manageable for your loved one. As a parent or loved one, you can validate these feelings and changes, and be available for them when they need help.
Mental health and medical professionals are experienced in treating depression in adolescents and can utilize various interventions including talk therapy, group therapy, psychiatric medication, etc. These professionals are equipped to help your teen manage their symptoms of depression and work towards developing healthy coping skills.
When Suicide Becomes a Risk:
Depression, especially in young adults, can lead to suicidal thoughts and ideation. These thoughts should be taken seriously, even if there is no intention or plans made. Teens can be especially vulnerable to suicide when they lack adequate skills to emotionally regulate and are unable to see the hope that things will get better in the future. Suicide can often be seen as a response to a temporary problem or a way to just feel better, it is not always based on a true desire to die or end one’s life. If you think your teen is in danger of suicide, seek help immediately, this can be through calling your local emergency number or utilizing hotlines such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).
Don’t be afraid to talk to your teen about suicide, even using the word “suicide” can help you determine if there is an imminent risk. While some may believe talking with their loved ones about suicide can put the idea in their head, it may save their life by opening the door for help. Listen and validate their feelings, encourage them to seek help, and identify protective factors in their life that give them meaning and purpose.
Preventing Depression in Your Teen:
Depression can be caused by several factors including a chemical imbalance in the brain, predisposition due to a family history of depression, trauma, and stressful changes in a person’s environment. While many of these factors cannot be controlled, there are steps you can take to support your teen and help prevent symptoms of depression from worsening. Taking steps with your teen to manage and control external stress, partaking in activities that build self-esteem and confidence, and talking with your teen openly about what they are experiencing can all be great ways to help them feel supported. Encouraging loved ones to reach out to friends, family, teachers, counselors, or other trusted individuals in their lives when they are struggling can decrease the isolation and withdrawal that can coincide with depressive symptoms. Another way to prevent depression from worsening with your teen is to get help at the first signs of distress, taking those first steps towards treatment and management of depression long term can also prevent relapses in depression.
Discussing mental health can be difficult with your teen or loved one, but this conversation may be the most important one to have. Listen, validate, share your experience, and offer support and hope. Depression can be managed and treated and doesn’t have to be dealt with alone. If you have struggled with depression in the past, share those experiences, and be a beacon of hope for your teenager who may feel alone. If you are looking for additional resources, ask your pediatrician, school counselors, or local mental health professionals for more information.
About the Author:
Meredith Beach is a Licensed Social Worker in the state of New Jersey, experienced in working with young adults and adolescents and their families who are experiencing substance use disorders, anxiety, depression, trauma, and relationship issues. Meredith is well versed in several evidence-based counseling techniques, such as Dialectical Behavior Training (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing, and Mindfulness-based practices. Read More About Meredith.