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Helping Teens with Depression

The teen years bring an onslaught of changes. 

Hormones, new expectations at school, and relationships (both romantic and platonic) created added pressure, leaving teens feeling sad, emotional and exhausted. 

Sometimes, these feelings become more persistent, and amplified, and can lead to depression.

Depression is a mental health condition that can sap your energy, increase anxiety and cause changes in your sleep and eating patterns. In very bad cases, it can cause you to stop attending school or college, impact on functioning and cause frightening thoughts of self harm. 

It is still unclear why depression often starts in teen years, although doctors believe that the chemical changes at puberty can cause changes in brain chemistry which can lead to depression. Additionally, there is evidence that it could run in families and often can be triggered by a stressful or traumatic life event.

If you are struggling with depression and you want some tips on how to manage it as a teenager or are a parent of one, look no further.

The NHS says,

Depression is more than simply feeling fed up or unhappy for a few days…when you’re depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months  Some people think depression is trivial and not a real health condition. They’re wrong. It is a real illness with real symptoms. Depression is not a sign of weakness or something you can ‘snap out of’ by ‘pulling yourself together’. The good news is that with the right treatment and support, most people with depression can make a full recovery.’     

1) How do I know it’s depression?

It is normal for teenagers to ‘act out’, behave badly and be more grumpy or sad than usual as this is part of this life transition. However, depression is greater than that- it takes over the mind, making them despairing, angry, very low and overwhelmed. They may be more tearful and start thinking negatively about themselves (low self esteem) and others. Common thoughts are feeling shame, failure and lack of worth, due to the depression. 

Signs to look out for are if you or your teen is withdrawing from friends and family and spending lots of time alone. Depression causes low energy and motivation, meaning socialising often takes a back seat, especially if anxiety is also present. 

Other symptoms of depression include hopelessness, irritability, frequent crying or tearfulness , fatigue, difficulty concentrating, not coping at school or home, sensitivity to criticism, aches and pains, self harm thoughts- including thoughts of suicide.  Some may use drugs or alcohol to mask the pain of depression or get involved with the wrong crowd, but this doesn’t happen in every case. 

If your teen is entering crisis point with their depression and is harming themselves, suicidal or engaging in reckless behaviour, please seek professional advice from a GP or psychiatrist who are qualified to diagnose depression.

The most important thing is noticing any ‘out of character’ behaviour. Sometimes depression can happen alongside other mental health conditions too. 

2) Communication  

It is vital as a parent of family member to keep lines of communication open as depression needs treatment as soon as possible. If you are concerned, then speak to your teen in a loving, kind way about it. Keep dialogue open with them and ask them what is going on for them and how they are feeling. You must listen  patiently and not ask too many questions. This help guide says that you should focus on:

Listening not lecturing- don’t pass judgement on what you are hearing from your teen and let them know you are there for them unconditionally.

Acknowledge their feelings and help them to feel safe and secure.

Trust your gut about what you are being told and work with your teenager, help them gently to move forward without being too pushy or patronising. 

3) Treatment and Help  

Depression can be across a wide spectrum from mild to severe. Depending on the symptoms your teen is experiencing, a doctor may recommend a wide range of treatments. If it is very mild, a doctor may recommend ‘watchful waiting’, to see if it goes away on its own, coupled with attending group therapies. However, if it is more severe and affecting daily functioning and the patient is very ill, a doctor would prescribe anti depressant medication (such as SSRIs) and refer you to talking therapies such as CBT- cognitive behavioural therapy, a therapy challenging negative thought patterns and behaviour. Anti depressants boost the production of serotonin in the brain.

If the depression is severe or not responding to treatment, your GP can refer you to a specialised mental health team for treatment by a psychiatrist or psychologist. In the NHS, this will be under CAMHS.  This could mean taking different medication that’s right for you, but is all trial and error. If you need to get private treatment yourself, you can but it is expensive in the UK.

Exercise is also meant to help boost the production of serotonin and making small lifestyle changes eg removing stressors, sleep hygiene for good sleep and looking at diet can also help.

If you are worried about a teen with depression and/or other symptoms of illness, please seek medical advice and involve the child’s school and teachers too. They should know they are never alone and they can be helped. Depression in teens can be treated.

Teen Calm subscription box is a new monthly treat box for those with depression and anxiety. See more here

Anxiety in Teens

Our teen years can be a time of fun, friends and parties. But they can also be a time of increased anxiety and vulnerability to mental health issues. We know that as children enter their teen years, there is an increased risk of anxiety and depression (and other mental illness), due to life and bodily changes.  As a teen, you want to fit in with your friends and developing anxiety during this time can mean that you feel different from others, even though it is very common. 

So what is anxiety?

Anxiety is a reaction to life stress, involving mind and body. It can be a survival system, when we perceive a danger or threat.  As a teen, you may be experiencing pressure with exams at school or stress at home, you are growing up and changing to become an adult and life can feel difficult. Things like dating or public speaking, making and sustaining friendships, money worries, become a priority, but they can be anxiety provoking- causing sensations such as racing heart, insomnia, shaking or blushing.

It can also lead to hyperventilation (shallow breathing), headaches and in worst cases, panic attacks. Adrenaline and cortisol ,a stress hormone, surge through the body, causing a reaction to the perceived stress.  This means sometimes that you may not interact with your family or your friends, isolating yourself and wanting to be alone. You may also have a change to eating habits or sleep or have stomach aches. 

A small amount of anxiety can be good as it motivates us to keep going despite pressure. However, in some people, it can turn into an anxiety disorder. 

What if it becomes an anxiety disorder? 

For some teens, anxiety gets taken a step further and becomes a key part of a mental health disorder such as anxiety disorders and phobias, depression or illnesses like PTSD.  Anxiety disorders can interrupt every day functioning, disrupting relationships at home, school and with friends, your teen may stop attending school if their anxiety is very high. There may also be a significant impact to academic grades and feeling overwhelmed with workload and life in general.  

Panic attack symptoms can seem very frightening, causing chest pain, hyperventilation, upset stomach, feeling like you are dying or having a heart attack, numbness or tingling, for example. It’s important that if your teen is experiencing panic attacks, to go to your GP and see if you can get a referral to CAMHS services. Therapy may be needed to provide strategies to cope.    

In 2018, NHS Digital and Young Minds released figures that said that 1 in 8 children in the UK aged between 5 and 19 has a diagnosable mental health condition. They also said that nearly a quarter of young women aged 17-19 has an emotional disorder and that the prevalence of those experiencing anxiety in the UK had increased by 48% from 2004 in 2017.

So, we know that teens are struggling with their mental health. More cases are being reported and as the stigma towards illness is falling, more are speaking out and reaching for support.

There is still not much known on the origin of anxiety disorders- it could be down to brain chemistry and genes (if your parent has suffered from a mental illness, you are more likely to) or down to life stress and circumstances. A teen experiencing a traumatic event could then go on to develop a mental health condition. 

How can you help?

Helpful strategies include encouraging self care- listening to calming music, good sleep practices, listening to relaxation recordings (guided meditations), making sure your teen is eating and drinking enough and sees their doctor or therapist . It is helpful to go with them to your doctor or find a therapist to help too. They can also call the Samaritans for non judgemental chat on 116 123.

It’s vital to speak to school and teachers to see if support can be given in terms of managing workload, friendships and emotional support during the school day, in order to ease them slowly back to attendance or more support.

If you worry that your teen is at crisis point (self harming or feeling suicidal for example) or you are a teen in crisis, it is important to speak to your doctor or local CAMHS team. If you are under a psychiatrist, it is best to go through their crisis team to seek support. In worst cases, you may have to go to Accident and Emergency. There are waiting lists for CAMHS, so you may need to seek private treatment if possible for you.

We created Teen Calm to help teens with anxiety, being part of a network of young people. For more on Teen Calm subscription box to help your teen see: www.teencalm.com 

Welcome to Teen Calm

Are you a teenager struggling with anxiety or depression? Want to feel part of a wider community of friends? Look no further than Teen Calm!

Teen Calm is a new subscription box for anxious teens, created by 13 year old Freya and her mum Cathy, who are based in the UK. Freya was diagnosed with autism last year in the midst of a mental health crisis of depression and anxiety. She is now recovering but both Freya and Cathy want to do something to help other teenagers in the UK and globally.

Children’s mental health services (CAMHS) in the UK are overstretched and often underfunded. Although mental health staff try their best and there is some good care available, there are long waiting lists and young people can slip through the net unless they are in crisis. Cathy and Freya wanted to make a product, Teen Calm, that is not only a home business, but can actually have an impact on those who are struggling.

‘Both Freya and I feel strongly, through our experience, that there is a major problem with children’s mental health services, and that there are tweens and teens all over the country who are anxious or depressed, and not getting the help they need. Of course, a subscription box can’t give them that help. But it can help let them know they are not alone, and give them techniques to lessen the impact.’

Cathy continues ‘Teen Calm is also something Freya and I could do together which got her off the sofa when things were bad with her depression.’

The main aims of Teen Calm subscription box are to help anxious teens feel more confident, giving them a sense of belonging. The box will be sent out monthly, containing positive products to help reduce anxiety such as a stress ball, fidget toy, bath bomb, notepad, pens, colouring sheet, pins, fairy lights, plus a motivational card. These can all be aids to help improve daily anxiety.

Boxes will start being sent out in February 2020 and will be customised each month. Soon you can buy gift cards for friends and family through the upcoming website. The aim is to go global and help teens with anxiety all over the world. Knowing you are part of a worldwide, supportive community can help other teens feel connected and less alone.

Teen Calm is a very personal project. As well as her mental health needs, creator Freya’s diagnosis of autism meant that she requires special educational needs support (SEND) for her school work and life needs. This is greatly expensive and sometimes, hard to access. Cathy told us,

‘Teen Calm also symbolises our very difficult mental health journey as a family, where the lack of SEND funding has made everything a battle and already vulnerable families are made more stressed and more oppressed. So many people feel like they are alone in going through this, and then they find the right Facebook group and realise they are NOT alone. That there are anxious children all over the country who are being failed by ‘the system’. Teen Calm can’t fix that. But we can help in a small way. And we can help to build a community and show people that they are not alone.’

Freya and Cathy hope to build a supportive network through Teen Calm,which in turn will help Freya, who has anxiety herself, too.

If you are a parent/ guardian and feel that a subscription to Teen Calm can help your child, please do get in touch. We aim for the boxes to be affordable and to provide a glimmer of hope to families up and down the country, whose teens may be struggling.

While our subscription box doesn’t replace medical intervention, we hope it can help brighten the lives of children and young people, forming a positive, proactive community that everyone can learn from and grow with. Battling anxiety and loneliness , one box at a time.

For more about Teen Calm see the website and follow us on social media.

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