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10 Ways to Help Your Teen with Depression

1. Focus on listening instead of lecturing, criticizing, or passing judgement. The most important thing is that your teen is communicating! Keep those lines of communication open by showing your teen that you are there for them fully and unconditionally.

2. Be gentle, but persevere. Don’t give up if they shut you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Think about how hard it can be to talk about your own struggles with someone. Even if they want to, they may have a hard time expressing what they’re feeling. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.

3. Acknowledge their feelings. It can be easy to fall into trying to fix or rationalize with you teen. It is important to not try to talk your teen out of depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear minor or irrational to you. Well-meaning attempts to explain why “things aren’t that bad” or "this too shall pass" will just come across as if you don’t take their emotions seriously or that you don't care. Simply acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel understood and supported.

4. Trust your gut. If your teen claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation for what is causing their symptoms of depression, you should trust your instincts. If your teen won’t open up to you, consider turning to a trusted third party: a school counselor, favorite teacher, or a mental health professional. The important thing is to get them talking to someone.

5. Encourage social connection.

Depressed teens tend to withdrawal from friends, family, and activities they enjoy.

  • Make an effort to set aside time each day to connect with your teen with out distractions or multi-tasking. Talking about your teen's depression or feelings will not make them worse in the long run, it can actually be a powerful part of reducing you teen's depression. When face-to-face communication seems to be particularly challenging, some parents have found having a shared journal to be helpful. Teens can write questions, thoughts, or share feelings with a parent in the journal. Parents can share questions, responses, things you love about them, what you are proud of, etc.. The journal can be passed back and forth or left in a common area. Whatever keeps the lines of communication open!

  • Encourage them to go out with friends or invite friends over. Suggest activities—such as sports, clubs, or after-school classes—that take advantage of your teen’s interests and talents. 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.

  • Doing things and turning the focus away from ourselves is a powerful antidepressant and self-esteem booster. Encouraging your teen to volunteer for a cause that they are interested can give them a sense of purpose.

6. Encourage your teen to take care of their physical health. Healthy eating, exercise, and even basic hygiene can go out the window with depression; but eating healthy, exercise, and taking care of herself can also be powerful in combatting depression.

  • Encourage your teen to be physically active. You may need to think outside the box. Walking the dog, dancing, shooting hoops, going for a hike, riding bikes, skateboarding—as long as they’re moving, it’s beneficial.

  • Set limits on screen time. Teens can use YouTube, video games, etc. as a means of escape. As screen time increases, physical activity and social interaction decreases.

  • Provide nutritious meals and snacks. The depressed brain craves sugary, fatty foods for a quick pick-me-up, but they only have negative long term effects on mood and energy.

  • Encourage your teen to get 9-10 hours of sleep a night. Too much or too little sleep can negatively effect mental health

7. Seek professional help. Support and healthy lifestyle changes can make a world of difference for depressed teens, but it’s not always enough. When depression is severe, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a mental health professional with advanced training and a strong background treating teens.

  • Involve your teen in treatment. Treatment will be more likely to be effective if your teen is onboard. Get your child's input when choosing a professional or making treatment decisions. If your child feels uncomfortable or is just not ‘connecting’ with the counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist, seek out a better fit.

  • Explore your options. Talk therapy is often a good initial treatment for mild to moderate cases of depression. Over the course of therapy, your teen’s depression may resolve. If it doesn’t, medication may be warranted.

  • Medication comes with it's own risks and side effects. Please talk to your doctor about these and potential red flags for teens on antidepressants.

8. Support your teen while they are in treatment. 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. During this trying time, it’s important to remember that your child is not being difficult on purpose. Your teen is suffering, so do your best to be patient and understanding.

  • Make sure your teenager is following all treatment instructions, whether it’s attending therapy or correctly taking any prescribed medication. Track changes in your teen’s condition, and call the doctor if depression symptoms seem to be getting worse.

  • The road to your depressed teenager’s recovery may be bumpy, so be patient. Rejoice in small victories and prepare for the occasional setback. Most importantly, don’t judge yourself or compare your family to others. As long as you’re doing your best to get your teen the necessary help, you’re doing your job.

9. Take care of yourself and the rest of the family. 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. However, it’s extremely important that you continue to take care of yourself during this difficult time.

  • It is important for you to have your own support system. Reach out to family and friends, join a support group, or enlist the help of a counselor for yourself.

  • Make sure your are taking care of your own physical health. Just like when you are on an airplane and they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else, you have to take care of yourself yo be able to provide the best care for your teen.

  • Be open about what is going on with your family and invite your children to ask questions and share their feelings. Kids tend to come to their own conclusions when left in the dark and their assumptions may not be accurate or healthy. Enlist the help of your counselor if you are unsure how to discuss what is going on in a developmentally appropriate way.

  • Depression and anxiety can impact the entire family. Siblings may need special individual attention or professional help of their own to handle their feelings about the situation.

10.Avoid the blame game. When we feel powerless sometimes we seek to gain control by putting the blame on someone or something. Blaming yourself, another family member, your teen, etc. only adds to an already stressful situation. Focus your energy on more helpful areas like those listed above.

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