I worry my adolescent may be depressed

I worry my adolescent may be depressed

It can be sometimes very hard for parents to tell where the line is between common teenage misery and something more serious. For many people, adolescence is a challenging period of life for various reasons, and having mood swings is a typical experience for teenagers who are doing OK overall. So it can be difficult to know when to be concerned.

While occasional bad moods or acting out is to be expected during the teenage years, depression is something different. It is when the low or irritable mood continues, for weeks and months, when your child does not seem to have ups and downs, but appears unhappy most of the time. Social withdrawal is another common sign of depression. Whilst taking time to be alone is a necessary experience for adolescents, a teenager who spends too much time on their own or struggles to connect with others in any meaningful way can be experiencing low self-worth and emotional suffering. Excessively rebellious and risky behaviours can also be a warning sign of depression, in that young people can “act out” in an attempt to cope with their emotional pain. Other signs of depression may include restlessness and agitation, loss of interest in activities, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, school difficulties, reduced concentration, changes in eating and sleeping habits, fatigue or lack of energy, and thoughts or acts of self-harm or suicide. Self-harm and suicidal thoughts do not necessarily mean that a young person is contemplating suicide, but need to be taken seriously. Please follow the link below if you are concerned about this. https://www.psych.ox.ac.uk/news/new-guide-for-parents-who-are-coping-with-their-child2019s-self-harm-2018you-are-not-alone2019

Many young people recover from depression within a few months without treatment. However, for some young people recovery takes longer, or they may need professional support to get better.

Depression can be damaging when left untreated, especially when worrisome symptoms do not seem to go away. If you suspect that your child is depressed, try to bring up your concerns in a calm, supportive, non-judgmental way.

Pick a suitable time to open up a dialogue. You could organise this around another activity, like a walk or drive; this can make it easier for teenagers to talk. You can ask how they are feeling, letting them know you are not judging them or putting them down, and that you love and care about them. Show that you are prepared to listen to what your child has to say. Try not to lecture or ask a lot of questions. Acknowledge their feelings and concerns, even if they appear silly or irrational to you. If you don’t understand, show that you are interested in learning more. This is more helpful than making wrong assumptions.

Don’t try to talk your teen out of depression or give advice that has not been asked for. Well-meaning attempts to explain why “things aren’t that bad” may come across as if you don’t understand or take their emotions seriously. Simply acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel understood and supported. You can also emphasise that you are there and willing to provide whatever support they need. If your child does not want to talk, don’t give up. See if they will write you a note, email or text message about how they feel. Ask if they would rather speak to someone else (e.g. a GP, counsellor or helpline), and recognise that this may not be easy for them.

If you need to make decisions that your teenager is unable to do for themselves, keep them informed and try to give them opportunities to get involved in the process as much as possible.

Living with a depressed teenager can have an impact on the whole family. Parents may experience a range of feelings, including confusion, worry, sadness, and frustration. It is also common for parents to question their parenting, feel guilty or powerless, trying very hard to help their child feel better but nothing seeming to make any difference. Some parents talk about feeling exasperated, walking on eggshells whilst dealing with competing demands (e.g. looking after other children) without adequate support. It is important that you look after yourself as well as your child.

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