One in five adolescents suffers from depression at some point in their teenage years. As parents, it is essential to be able to identify the signs of depression to help your child, and, in extreme cases, prevent suicidal thoughts. Early recognition of these symptoms is critical. Teenagers face many challenges – the pressure to fit in, the pressure to do well in school, trying to meet expectations, identity crisis, etc. A parents’ love, guidance, and support can help teens overcome these difficult years.
How Teens Cope with Depression
It’s important to recognize different ways that teens “act out” to cope with emotional pain. Depression will appear differently in different individuals, and no one sign has a perfect correlation to depression. However, they are still essential indicators.
As a result of having low energy, students may skip school. There may also be a drop in their grades due to the inability to focus. Going to school may seem pointless since they can’t concentrate in class.
Drug or Alcohol Use
Also, due to the misconception of drugs and alcohol amongst teens, they may resort to drugs and alcohol to help alleviate emotional pain. Depression and substance abuse make a dangerous and harmful combination. Instead of finding healthier solutions to cope with difficulties, they automatically resort to drugs and alcohol. Repeated substance abuse can alter the brain and cause many problems in the future.
Overuse of Electronics
Another thing to look out for is the overuse of computers, laptops, and smartphones. Teens may go online excessively to escape reality. However, this can be more harmful because it increases their exposure to social media. Teens, especially girls, tend to compare themselves to others who have a better life, or at least an outer appearance. This constant comparison can cause low self-esteem.
Teenagers may behave recklessly and do things without considering the consequences – dangerous driving, binge drinking, unsafe sex, etc. In the process, they may bring harm to themselves. Teens may also become more violent and aggressive. Aggression is more common in boys who were victims of bullying. Some teenagers may even run away or talk about running away.
Teen depression may also lead to other mental health problems, such as eating disorders and self-injury.
Warning Signs for Suicidal Thoughts/Acts
Even though your teen may seem distant and hard to approach, it’s critical to recognize and respond appropriately to suicide warning signs. Therapists are expressing concern about rising suicide rates in teens. As the therapists at Freedom Counseling remind us, “the number of girls age 15 to 19 committing suicide doubled [while the] suicide rate [for boys in the same age group] climbed by more than 30 percent” between 2007 to 2015.
With the rising percentage of suicides, early intervention is key. Teens with suicidal thoughts may talk jokingly about committing suicide, speak positively about death, or say that they would be better off dead. For teens who are more expressive through writing, they may write stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide. Teens considering suicide may give away their prized possessions and say goodbye to friends and family as if it were their last time. Finally, but not limited to, they may seek out weapons or pills to commit suicide.
What You Can Do to Help Your Teen
You can help your teen by making yourself available. Communicate with them and express your concerns in a loving way, without judgment. Make it very clear that you’re available for them, ready to listen, and willing to provide support for their needs. When listening to them, don’t bombard them with questions; let them talk. Remember, you’re not giving them a lecture; you’re merely listening and helping them express their feelings. When they open up to you, don’t dismiss their feelings. You must acknowledge and validate their feelings. If they’re feeling a certain way, don’t tell them that they’re overthinking things and being silly. Listening to what they have to say and acknowledging their feelings can help them feel understood and comforted.
Provide opportunities for your teen to socialize. Teens tend to isolate themselves when they are going through depression, but this only escalates the problem. Make sure you set time each day to communicate with your teen face-to-face. Give your full attention to your teen and do not multitask during this time. Encourage your teen to go out with friends, invite friends over, participate in extracurricular activities outside of school, and so on. You can provide more opportunities for your teen to connect with other teenagers. Enroll your teen in activities that he/she is interested in – sports, music, dance, etc. Although they may seem unwilling and unmotivated in the beginning, they may feel more enthusiastic about it later.
Helping others can also help boost their self-esteem and give them a sense of purpose. Give them a list of volunteering opportunities and have them choose one or two. It may be a good idea to volunteer with them to increase bonding time. Provide your teenager with nutritious meals, limit screen time, and ensure they are getting enough sleep. Their physical and mental health are connected, so it’s essential to make sure they’re healthy in all aspects.
If necessary, do not be afraid to seek professional help.
Don’t Be Discouraged
Depression causes immense emotional pain, but there are ways to overcome it, so don’t be discouraged. With proper guidance and love, your teen can get back on track. Never ignore an unusual or alarming symptom. If there is a problem, don’t expect them to go away over time. Act and address the issues.