How To Talk To Teens About Depression – 5 Tips For Parents

Why do you think that depression is such a big problem among teens today? One answer could be that teens are under enormous peer pressure. In one survey, the teens said they thought that success and happiness was round the corner if they could have enough money, if they were good looking and if they became famous on TV!  But one of the most alarming teenage depression facts to emerge from that particular survey revealed that about one third of adolescents were at risk of developing depression in the future. There is an urgent need to talk about this at every level of society.

 Some teenage depression facts

Resilient Youth Australia found that between 35% and 33% of boys and girls were suffering already from a depressive illness. Many were unwilling to talk about it and trying to find a way out by having early sex, alcoholism or some other form of drug abuse. Almost half were convinced that violence and aggression were solutions to  relationship problems. This was a large survey involving over 4,000 teens.

Whether you are in the UK, USA or anywhere else, the facts about teenage mental illness need to be addressed. One solution proposed by Resilient Youth Australia is to make emotional resilience an integral part of the school curriculum. The need to talk about this at school cannot be underestimated.

Have YOU noticed something unusual?

  • Needless to say, symptoms of teenage depression may not be so evident at all. We know that only about 20% of teens will actually seek or get assistance or treatment. However, it is true to say, that teens tend to manifest symptoms rather differently from those typical of adults. These are things to look out for, although naturally, there could be another underlying problem
  • Sadness will not be such a typical symptom. A depressed teenager is much more likely to be constantly in a bad mood, touchy, irritable, and hostile.  Sometimes, it will be impossible to talk to him or her about anything, let alone  their problems. There may be uncontrolled outbursts at times.
  • Feelings of low esteem and worthlessness may make them extra sensitive to criticism which they can interpret as a form of rejection.
  • They are unlikely to be totally isolated and alone. They probably will not be so sociable as before and may have changed their circle of friends. Teens may be unwilling to talk about this.
  • They may talk about tiredness and general malaise such as stomach aches and back pain.
  • They may be prone to irresponsible and reckless behavior, not caring as much as they used to about commitments, appointments, and punctuality.
  • There are sometimes signs of irregular eating which can lead to anorexia or binge eating. Organize better meals for them.
  • You may notice that schoolwork is not up to their normal standards
  • Irregular sleep patterns which may result in drowsiness during the day.

It is not always just a phase in many cases and and an untreated illness like depression  may lead to even more severe problem such as violence, committing crimes, self harm and suicidal thoughts.

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5 Tips on how to talk to teens about depression

  1. You can try to find out what exactly the problem is and that means being able to talk to and communicate effectively with your teens. There could be problems at school or in social circles and depression may not be the actual cause at all. By keeping lines of communication open, you can attempt to find out where the problem lies.
  2. If you do suspect that a depressive illness is a problem, make sure that you get a proper diagnosis. The doctor or specialist will determine whether anxiety is playing a role. Or there may simply be a problem of some sort of drug abuse. The specialist needs to assess whether incidences of self harm are a factor and what the risks of completed suicide are. The highest risk group for suicide is not teens but young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.
  3. Be aware that the National Institute of Mental Health recommends various approaches to treatment using anti depressants and behavioural therapy. They found that antidepressants (Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil) can reduce symptoms because they assist the brain in balancing the brain chemicals such as serotonin which keep us in a good mood. Look at the NIMH website to make sure you are up to date on the side effects and the long term implications. Sometimes a combination type of therapy using psychotherapy and meds can be a valid treatment.
  4. You may want to investigate a gentler option using herbal or homeopathic remedies.  Like psychotropic drugs these are just medications to ease symptoms and they are not really going to cure the condition at all. Everything will depend on how the teen reacts and how you are going to help him/her to overcome this difficult phase.
  5. Talk about the possibility of family therapy as that can really help. This is where the whole family can become much more aware and caring and is a life lesson worth its weight in gold. It can really help to talk about and how to resolve many other family issues.

Your open and supportive help and empathy is what you teen will value most. You are not going to pontificate, lecture or advise but rather use your own brand of talk therapy. The teen will appreciate your affection and practical help when times are tough.

 

 

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Photo attribution: Nathan Csonka and Rob Harding, via Flickr