Supporting Adolescents Showing Signs of Depression
By Abby Betz, LSW – May 18, 2022 –
For most teens, the adolescent years are a time of rapid growth and development, both physically and emotionally. Life skills are learned and put into practice. Newfound independence is established and boundaries are tested. Additionally, teens begin to find themselves facing different stressors and pressures, exploring new identities, discovering who they are, and uncovering their future possibilities.
With this time of continuous change and excitement also comes uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Teenagers may start to imagine what life will be like once they are away from their parents. The thought of living on their own can seem like an exhilarating thrill to some, but for others, it can be a scary time full of lots of questions and “what ifs.”
Although these types of feelings are completely normal, including mood changes and some incidences of acting out, a teenager suffering from depression is different. It is important as parents and caregivers to be able to recognize these signs and ready to provide assistance.
When thinking of the clinical presentation of depression, symptoms such as overwhelming sadness, exhaustion, loss of interest, poor sleep, and decreased appetite probably come to mind. However, for adolescents, it is vital to understand that depression can also present itself as rage, anger, and irritability more than pervasive sadness.
If you suspect your teen is showing signs of depression, open the line of communication by listening. It is important not to judge, criticize, lecture, or punish them for the way they feel, but rather provide a safe space for them to express their feelings. Negative reactions quickly shut down communication and push your teen further away.
If your teen is not opening up, try discussing something light-hearted to get the conversation going and build the rapport needed for talking about topics that are more serious. Be present and let your teenager know that you are there and ready to listen.
Additionally, it is important for your teenager to know you do not find their feelings to be irrational or unrealistic. Taking all feelings and emotions seriously is essential to building a strong relationship with your teen. Acknowledge their emotions, and then reassuringly point out facts and realities that validate your teen’s feelings.
Depression is a real illness and may require the help of a professional. It is important to involve your teenager in the process of seeking professional help. Your teen will get the most out of treatment if they feel involved, motivated, and engaged.
Some adolescents may resist seeking treatment, but as a parent or caregiver it is vital to provide support and encouragement. Reinforce that seeking help is a sign of courage and strength and that strong people are capable and deserving of feeling better.
Lastly, if your teen talks about, threatens, or even jokes about suicide, you must take it seriously. Never assume someone talking about suicide is just merely “attention-seeking.” If your teen is trying to get your attention, give it. Adolescents dealing with depression can be at higher risk for suicide. Seek professional help immediately if your teen or anyone you know shows signs of concern.
If urgent help is needed, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).