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Teenagers face a host of pressures, from the changes of puberty to questions about who they are and where they fit in. But teen depression goes beyond moodiness. Your love, guidance, and support can go a long way toward helping your teen overcome depression and get their life back on track. The teen years can be extremely tough and depression affects teenagers far more often than many of us realize. However, while depression is highly treatable, most depressed teens never receive help.
Help is available—and you have more power over your mood than you may think. No matter how despondent life seems right now, there are many things you can do to change your mood and start feeling better today. While occasional bad moods or acting out is to be expected during the teenage years, depression is something different. The negative effects of teenage depression go far beyond a melancholy mood. Many rebellious and unhealthy behaviors or attitudes in teenagers can be indications of depression.
Teen depression is also associated with a number of other mental health problems, including eating disorders and self-injury. While depression can cause tremendous pain for your teen—and disrupt everyday family life—there are plenty of things you can do to help your child start to feel better.
The first step is to learn what teen depression looks like and what to do if you spot the warning signs. Unlike adults, who have the ability to seek assistance on their own, teenagers rely on parents, teachers, or other caregivers to recognize their suffering and get them the help they need. Instead, irritability, anger, and agitation may be the most prominent symptoms.
Depression in teens can look very different from depression in adults. The following 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. 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. Hormones and stress can explain the occasional bout of teenage angst—but not continuous and unrelenting unhappiness, lethargy, or irritability.
If you suspect that a teenager is suicidal, take immediate action! For hour suicide prevention and support in the U. To find a suicide helpline outside the U. To learn more about suicide risk factors, warning signs, and what to do in a crisis, read Suicide Prevention. If you suspect that your teen is depressed, bring up your concerns in a loving, non-judgmental way.
Focus on listening, not lecturing. Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. Be gentle but persistent. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Acknowledge their feelings. Simply acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel understood and supported.
Trust your gut. If your teen claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation for what is causing the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts. The important thing is to get them talking to someone. Depressed teens tend to withdraw from their friends and the activities they used to enjoy. But isolation only makes depression worse, so do what you can to help your teen reconnect. Make face time a priority. Combat social isolation.
Do what you can to keep your teen connected to others. Encourage them to go out with friends or invite friends over. Participate in activities that involve other families and give your child an opportunity to meet and connect with other kids. Get your teen involved. While your teen may lack motivation and interest at first, as they reengage with the world, they should start to feel better and regain their enthusiasm. Promote volunteerism. Doing things for others is a powerful antidepressant and self-esteem booster.
If you volunteer with them, it can also be a good bonding experience. 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 active—whatever it takes. 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. Provide nutritious, balanced meals. Make sure your teen is getting the nutrition they need for optimum brain health and mood support: things like healthy fats , quality protein , and fresh produce.
Encourage plenty of sleep. Teens need more sleep than adults to function optimally—up to hours per night. No one therapist is a miracle worker, and no one treatment works for everyone. Talk therapy is often a good initial treatment for mild to moderate cases of depression.
Unfortunately, some parents feel pushed into choosing antidepressant medication over other treatments that may be cost-prohibitive or time-intensive.
In all cases, antidepressants are most effective when part of a broader treatment plan. Antidepressants were designed and tested on adults, so their impact on young, developing brains is not yet fully understood.
Some researchers are concerned that exposure to drugs such as Prozac may interfere with normal brain development—particularly the way the brain manages stress and regulates emotion.
Antidepressants also come with risks and side effects of their own , including a number of safety concerns specific to children and young adults. They are also known to increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in some teenagers and young adults. Teens with bipolar disorder , a family history of bipolar disorder, or a history of previous suicide attempts are particularly vulnerable.
The risk of suicide is highest during the first two months of antidepressant treatment. Teenagers on antidepressants should be closely monitored for any sign that the depression is getting worse.
Be understanding. Living with a depressed teenager can be difficult and draining. At times, you may experience exhaustion, rejection, despair, aggravation, or any other number of negative emotions. Your teen is suffering, so do your best to be patient and understanding.
Stay involved in treatment. Be patient. Rejoice in small victories and prepare for the occasional setback. 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.
Above all, this means reaching out for much needed support. Having your own support system in place will help you stay healthy and positive as you work to help your teen. Reach out to friends, join a support group, or see a therapist of your own. Look after your health. Be open with the family. Kids know when something is wrong. When left in the dark, their imaginations will often jump to far worse conclusions. Be open about what is going on and invite your children to ask questions and share their feelings.
Remember the siblings. Siblings may need special individual attention or professional help of their own to handle their feelings about the situation. Avoid the blame game.
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Help for Parents of Troubled Teens - haasland.com
Tantrums, defiance, moodiness, intense emotions, impulsive and reckless conduct. Sometimes it may be hard to believe, but no, your teenager is not an alien being from a distant planet. Your teen may be taller than you and seem mature in some respects, but often they are simply unable to think things through on an adult level.
Hormones produced during the physical changes of adolescence can further complicate things. Understanding adolescent development can help you find ways to stay connected to your teen and overcome problems together. No matter how much your teen seems to withdraw from you emotionally, no matter how independent your teen appears, or how troubled your teen becomes, they still need your attention and to feel loved by you.
Teens differ from adults in their ability to read and understand emotions in the faces of others. Adults use the prefrontal cortex to read emotional cues, but teenagers rely on the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotional reactions. Research shows that teens often misread facial expressions; when shown pictures of adult faces expressing different emotions, teens most often interpreted them as being angry.
As teenagers begin to assert their independence and find their own identity, many experience behavioral changes that can seem bizarre and unpredictable to parents.
As difficult as this can be for parents to endure, they are the actions of a normal teenager. A troubled teen, on the other hand, exhibits behavioral, emotional, or learning problems beyond typical teenage issues. They may repeatedly practice at-risk behaviors including drinking, drug use, sex, violence, skipping school, self-harming, shoplifting, or other criminal acts.
If you identify red flag behaviors in your teen, consult a doctor, counselor, therapist , or other mental health professional for help finding appropriate treatment. As detailed below, there are many actions you can take at home to help your teen and improve the relationship between you. The first step is to find a way to connect with what they are experiencing emotionally and socially.
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. Be aware of your own stress levels. Be there for your teen. 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. Find common ground. Fathers and sons often connect over sports; mothers and daughters over gossip or movies. Listen without judging or giving advice. Expect rejection. Your teen may often respond to your attempts to connect with anger, irritation, or other negative reactions.
Stay relaxed and allow your teen space to cool off. Successfully connecting to your teen will take time and effort. The same may be true of prescription medications. Every phone call or knock on the door could bring news that your son has either been harmed, or has seriously harmed others.
Teenage girls get angry as well, of course, but that anger is usually expressed verbally rather than physically. Some will even direct their rage towards you. For any parent, especially single mothers, this can be a profoundly disturbing and upsetting experience. Putting up with violence is as harmful for your teen as it is for you. Everyone has a right to feel physically safe.
If your teen is violent towards you, seek help immediately. Call a friend, relative, or the police if necessary. Anger can be a challenging emotion for many teens as it often masks other underlying emotions such as frustration, embarrassment, sadness, hurt, fear, shame, or vulnerability.
In their teens, many boys have difficulty recognizing their feelings, let alone expressing them or asking for help. The challenge for parents is to help your teen cope with emotions and deal with anger in a more constructive way:. Establish boundaries, rules and consequences. If your teen lashes out, for example, they will have to face the consequences—loss of privileges or even police involvement. Teens need boundaries and rules, now more than ever. Is your teen sad or depressed?
Does your teen just need someone to listen to them without judgment? Be aware of anger warning signs and triggers. Does your teen get headaches or start to pace before exploding with rage? Or does a certain class at school always trigger anger? When teens can identify the warning signs that their temper is starting to boil, it allows them to take steps to defuse the anger before it gets out of control.
Help your teen find healthy ways to relieve anger. Exercise is especially effective: running, biking, climbing or team sports. Even simply hitting a punch bag or a pillow can help relieve tension and anger. Dancing or playing along to loud, angry music can also provide relief. Some teens also use art or writing to creatively express their anger. Give your teen space to retreat. Take steps to manage your own anger. As difficult as it sounds, you have to remain calm and balanced no matter how much your child provokes you.
If you or other members of your family scream, hit each other, or throw things, your teen will naturally assume that these are appropriate ways to express their anger as well.
It only takes a glance at the news headlines to know that teen violence is a growing problem. Movies and TV shows glamorize all manner of violence, many web sites promote extremist views that call for violent action, and hour after hour of playing violent video games can desensitize teens to the real world consequences of aggression and violence.
Of course, not every teen exposed to violent content will become violent, but for a troubled teen who is emotionally damaged or suffering from mental health problems, the consequences can be tragic. Problems at school. Low energy and concentration problems associated with teen depression can lead to a declining attendance and drop in grades. Running away. Many depressed teens run away or talk about running away from home, often as a cry for help. Drug and alcohol abuse. Low self-esteem.
Depression can trigger or intensify feelings of shame, failure, and social unease and make teens extremely sensitive to criticism. Smartphone addiction. Reckless behavior. Depressed teens may engage in dangerous or high-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving, binge drinking, or unsafe sex.
Create structure. Structure, such as regular mealtimes and bedtimes, make a teen feel safe and secure. Sitting down to breakfast and dinner together every day can also provide a great opportunity to check in with your teen at the beginning and end of each day. Reduce screen time. There appears to be a direct relationship between violent TV shows, movies, Internet content, and video games, and violent behavior in teenagers.
Limit the time your teen has access to electronic devices—and restrict phone usage after a certain time at night to ensure your child gets enough sleep. Encourage exercise. Once exercise becomes a habit, encourage your teen to try the real sport or to join a club or team.
Eat right. Act as a role model for your teen. Cook more meals at home, eat more fruit and vegetables and cut back on junk food and soda.
Ensure your teen gets enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can make a teen stressed, moody, irritable, and lethargic, and cause problems with weight, memory, concentration, decision-making, and immunity from illness. You might be able to get by on six hours a night and still function at work, but your teen needs 8. Suggest that your teen try listening to music or audio books at bedtime instead.
That means looking after your emotional and physical needs and learning to manage stress. Take time to relax daily and learn how to regulate yourself and de-stress when you start to feel overwhelmed. Learning how to use your senses to quickly relieve stress and regularly practicing relaxation techniques are great places to start. Talk it over. Find support from family, friends, a school counselor, sports coach, religious leader, or someone else who has a relationship with your teen. Remember your other children.
Dealing with a troubled teen can unsettle the whole family. Siblings may need special individual attention or professional help of their own to handle their feelings about the situation. Your teen can overcome the problems of adolescence and mature into a happy, well-balanced young adult. New Mexico State University. ACT for Youth. Palo Alto Medical Foundation.