If you think your teenager might be depressed, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help them. Depression affects every part of a person’s life, so it is vital that parents, family members and loved ones understand the signs and symptoms of teenage depression and provide them with support.
Take It Seriously
It can be very difficult to watch your child go through depression, but the most important thing you can do is take action instead of ignoring it and hoping it will go away. Depression is a serious medical condition that can become life-threatening if not addressed in a timely manner.
Communication is Key
A direct approach is best. If you think your teen is struggling with depression, approach the situation in a loving, non-judgmental way. Tell them how you feel about the behaviors you’re seeing and that they are signs of a problem that needs to be addressed. Encourage them to share what they are experiencing but be careful not to overwhelm them with too many questions. Acknowledge their feelings, even if you don’t understand. This will go a long way in helping them feel supported.
You may want to give advice or criticize their behavior, but it is more important to listen and let them know you are always there for them. Your teen may not want to open up at first, so be patient with him or her. If your teen shuts down or doesn’t want to talk to you, try not to take it personally. They might not know how to say how they feel or may not feel comfortable talking about it. If necessary, suggest that your teen talk with an adult whom both of you trust. That person may end up being a mental health professional, and that is okay. The important thing is that they talk to someone! When in doubt, trust your instincts as a parent.
Encourage Healthy Foods
It is important to ensure that your teen – and the rest of your family – are eating healthy, balanced meals. Serotonin is a feel-good hormone that uplifts your mood and helps you to sleep better. Caffeinated beverages lower serotonin levels in the brain and increase the risk for anxiety, depression, and poor sleep. Processed foods containing refined sugars will cause a person to have a short high-energy jolt followed by a “crash” of low energy and sluggishness. Maintaining a steady blood sugar level will help keep energy levels even.
As often as possible, try to offer your teen foods high in B12, folate, Vitamin D, Selenium and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Motivate Them to Move
Exercising regularly causes the brain to release feel-good chemicals that may help with depression. It also reduces fatigue, helps with concentration, helps increase self-esteem, serves as a healthy distraction and is a positive way to cope with difficult situations and feelings. Regular exercise can be as simple as taking a walk around the block or participating in a yoga class. It doesn’t have to be intense or last a long period of time. What’s important is that your teen gets moving and does it often. Here is a link to more information about motivating your teen to be active.
Depression can make your teen feel isolated. They may think no one cares about them or they may not want to be around others at all. Being around friends and family who love and support them will help your teen cope with the depression. Encourage your teen to spend time with friends who are a positive influence but don’t expect him or her to have the same energy level or tolerance of others right now. As with with communication, patience is key!
Make Sure They Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep plays an important role in a teen’s health and well-being. They require 8-10 hours of sleep per night in order to function properly. Help your teen set realistic expectations for their time and schedule so they have a reasonable bedtime and time to relax beforehand. Turning off cell phones, computers and TVs an hour before bedtime will help the brain relax and prepare for sleep. Removing electronic devices (TVs, computers and cell phones) from the bedroom at night will provide a dark, relaxing environment for your teen. It will also prevent them from playing on their devices instead of getting the quality sleep they need!
Timing is Everything
Be sure to set aside time every day for one-on-one time with your teen. This can be done during a fun activity, completing a chore together or riding in the car. Set an expectation that this will be an electronics-free time so you can listen to each other without distractions. Use this time every day to “check in” with your teen and encourage them to talk about their feelings. One helpful way to teach children of any age how to talk about feelings is to model that behavior. During the one-on-one time, talk about your day and how you’re feeling. This will go a long way toward helping your teen learn how to express themselves and manage their feelings.