Mental Health And Your Teen

Teen mental health is an important component of raising your teen. Since 2001, the the number of young people that die by suicide has been on the rise, increasing each year. As more and more teens struggle with depression and anxiety, it’s more important than ever that we, as parents, are aware of their struggle, and that we know what to look for and how to help treat it. 

While no one quite knows why these numbers have been on the rise, many experts believe that it’s due to the increased pressures at home and at school that adolescents face. Other’s speak to the advanced knowledge of parental problems and financial concerns. Added to the higher drug and alcohol use rates, as well as the added stress that social media presents, our children are at a higher risk than ever before of facing mental health struggles. 

Research on suicide.org shows that every 100 minutes, a teen takes their own life. It also states that about 20 percent of teens experience depression before they turn 18, and that only 30 percent of those teens receive treatment for their depression. 

What to Look For

If you’re unsure how to tell if your teen is struggling with depression, some signs to look for are:

  • Frequent sadness or apathy 
  • Crying often, especially without being able to identify why
  • Significant changes in appetite 
  • Significant weight changes
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Loss of interest social activities
  • Finding themselves easily irritated 
  • Gets angry quickly, and without reason
  • Trouble concentrating on tasks that used to hold their interest 
  • Doubting their self worth
  • They start isolating themselves from loved ones

You may also notice extreme behavior, such as engaging in promiscuity or unsafe sex, socializing with strangers instead of making connections with current friends and family members, risky behavior such as reckless driving or staying out all night, and the use of alcohol and drugs. These can all be signs of a teen trying to self medicate, or rather make themselves feel better by filling their lives by chasing a temporary high. 

How to Help

Left untreated, depression becomes more and more damaging. If you’ve noticed these signs in your teen, do not wait and hope that it will go away on it’s own. It will not. Start by having a conversation with your teen. Do not judge, or assume. Even if you’re not sure that your teen is living with depression, the things you’re noticing are real, and could be a sign of a deeper issue. Start by telling them (not accusing them) about the things that you’ve noticed. Explain why you’re worried, and give them a chance to respond. Do not interrupt or correct them; simply let them talk until they’ve said all they want to say. Try not to ask a lot of questions until they’re done. Focus on listening, and avoid lecturing. 

If they aren’t open to talking, be persistent. Even if they shut down, be aware that it might just be because they don’t know how to explain how they feel. Remain present, and reiterate that you’re there to listen, no matter how long it takes. 

Once they’ve explained how they’re feeling and what they’re experiencing, acknowledge their feelings. Don’t try to “explain away” how they feel, and don’t try to reassure them by telling them that things “aren’t that bad.” Even if what they’re explaining isn’t rational, it’s very real to them. Acknowledge their pain, and be sure to let them know that you’re there for them, and willing to help support them in any way that you can.

Be sure to set aside time each day to check in with your depressed teen—in person. This helps show them that they are valued, and it helps prevent isolation. Even if you’re only connecting face to face for fifteen minutes a day, if it’s completely focused and you’re distracted of multi-tasking, it can make a huge difference. No amount of talking to your child about depression will make anything worse, but showing them that you’re supportive and that they’re a priority for you will do plenty to combat negative emotions. 

Additionally, do what you can to encourage social interaction with others. Allow them to invite friends over. If they don’t take the initiative to spend time with friends on their own, plan some activities with other families that will encourage your teen to connect with other kids their age. You can also suggest extracurricular activites, such as team sports, after school clubs, or a part time job. Allowing them to explore their interests and their talents can help increase motivation, as well as self worth and purpose. Sometimes just feeling engaged in a world outside of their head is enough to increase their positive thoughts and spark enthusiasm.

Mental and physical health are very intricately linked. Be sure to provide opportunity for physical activity for your teen. Family walks, playing basketball, ice skating or riding bikes, or even an impromptu dance party in your kitchen can get your child moving and help combat depression. Just one hour of physical activity a day can make a huge difference in their mental outlook.

Prepare and plan healthy meals together. Sugary and starchy foods will lead to decreased energy and a negative mood, while well balanced and nutritional foods including healthy fats and good protein will boost moods and increase brain health. 

Additionally, limit screen and social media time. Especially if you find yourself feeling like your teen doesn’t have time for physical activate or face to face time with friends and family. Replace the video games, movies, and chatting online with real life conversations and activities. 

Insist on plenty of sleep. It’s easy to get more lenient with strict bedtimes as our children grow older, but the fact is, teens need just as much sleep as they did when they were younger. Ideally, no less than 10 hours a night. While this might feel daunting to enforce, keep in mind that your teen may be trading much needed, mood boosting sleep for staying up later to participate in activities that are negatively impacting their mental health. 

When to Seek Professional Help

If you’ve tried all of these things, and your child is still slipping deeper into depression, it’s time call a therapist. Involve your child in this choice. Have conversations with them about what their goals for therapy will be. Let them help choose a therapist. Many therapists have introductory videos or bios online that your child can check out ahead of time. Help them find someone that they feel comfortable with. Allow them to ask questions, both of you and of the therapist. Don’t be afraid to ask for a phone consult prior to scheduling so that your child will feel comfortable. 

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