Teenage depression and anxiety is a common and serious issue. At least one in every five teenagers experiences depression or anxiety before reaching adulthood. Many teenagers turn to destructive choices like drugs and alcohol, promiscuity, eating disorders, and even suicide to cope with their depression and anxiety.
In fact, suffering from depression makes a teenager 12 times more likely to attempt suicide. It is a startling fact that 1,439 young people attempt suicide every single day. The transition from being a child to joining adulthood is stressful and overwhelming; especially in our culture, where one in every three school-age kids is a victim of bullying. Teenagers who are disabled, overweight, or homosexual have an even steeper rate of being a victim of bullying and as a result, much higher rates of depression and suicide.
Understanding teenagers and what leads to these common struggles is critical in helping them find healthy ways to cope with their depression and anxiety.
The first step in understanding teenagers is recognizing that there is no textbook “typical teenage behavior” and the signs of depression vary as much as every teen’s unique temperament and circumstances. Your best resource for understanding teenagers and identifying anxiety and depression in teens is to keep the channels of communication open, so that your teenager can talk to you about their struggles. This gives you the platform to guide them and recognize when they need professional help:
- By the time your child reaches their teenage years, they are capable of making choices for themselves, even if you don’t agree with them. It is better if they can talk to you about it than for them to make unhealthy choices in secret. Be supportive, remain nonjudgmental about their choices, and subtly encourage them in a healthy direction rather than trying to force them into the decisions you want them to make.
- Be empathetic. When your teenager makes a bad choice, many times the underlying cause for their decision is the pain and confusion they are experiencing. Sometimes, they don’t even understand it themselves, but as you help them unravel their emotions, they’re able to sort it out in less destructive ways. Rather than dealing with the symptom (the bad choice they made), try to address the cause. Statements like, “It seems like you have been feeling down lately, is there something on your mind?” will help them feel safe talking to you, and will assist them in working out their own emotions.
- Help them find productive ways to channel their energy. Spend quality time with your teenager to strengthen their trust and channels of communication. Encourage them to find hobbies they enjoy that challenge them. If your teenager has something that makes them feel successful, they are less likely fall into destructive habits to work out their inner turmoil.
Taking Action When Your Teenager is Depressed
When you recognize an alarming change in your teenager’s behavior that makes you believe they’re dealing with more than just normal teenage angst, it is important to get them help as early as possible:
- Do not try to lecture them out of their depression. Depression is not a choice. They can’t will it away with your good advice.
- Be persistent, but listen more than talk. Asking too many questions or harping on their struggle will often times make a teenager struggling with depression shut down. Be available to spend time with your child, even in silence if they don’t feel like talking.
- Get your teenager involved in therapy with a mental health expert who is trained to work with young people. Teenage depression is different than adult depression.
- If your child’s therapist recommends treatment with antidepressants, help them be faithful in taking them. Keep in mind that most teen experts agree that antidepressants should be handled as a supplementary treatment while they learn healthy ways to cope with their depression, it is not an “instant fix.”
It is likely that your teenager will experience depression at some point as they grow into adulthood. While you can’t avoid that, understanding teenagers and how to help them when they feel like they’ve hit rock bottom can be the hinge pin that gives them the strength to get past it.