Helping Teens with Depression

As you enter your teen years, lots of changes can occur. Hormones, new expectations at school and in relationships can put pressure on you, making you feel sad, emotional and exhausted. Did you also know that in some cases, this 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 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 seretonin and making small lifestyle changes e.g 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

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