Categories
Depression

How to Help a Teen with Depression

Do you know how to help a teen with depression? If your child or a close friend of yours is struggling with what seems like an episode of depression, then it’s important to encourage them to seek professional help with you.

Depression is often more than a temporary feeling. A depressive episode is marked by a consistently low feeling. A depressed teen might still respond to a joke with a smile or be capable of a laugh, but their “neutral” state has become one of low mood, low self-esteem, and recurring negative thoughts.

Depressive episodes aren’t something a person can snap out of. It’s not like simply feeling blue or even conventional grief. Depression is a mood disorder, meaning it is an illness. However, it is also treatable as an illness.

Identifying Teen Depression

There are many different forms of depression. Treatment for a depressive disorder can depend on what symptoms your teen may be struggling with. Co-occurring conditions are also an important factor.

Teens who are depressed are much more likely to be struggling with anxiety as well or with a drug use problem. These can complicate both diagnosis and treatment.

Getting a definitive diagnosis is important. Only a mental health professional can make such a diagnosis.

However, there are many signs of depression that parents and friends can use to infer whether their loved one might be suffering from a depressive disorder or a normal period of sadness. Here are a few signs that might indicate that your teen is struggling with depression:

  • Frequently talking about suicide and death.
  • Constantly feeling tired despite getting enough sleep or oversleeping.
  • Struggling to focus, often losing concentration, poor grades.
  • Sudden loss or sudden gain in appetite.
  • Unexplained aches and pains, especially stomachaches and headaches.

Frequently crying, sometimes without knowing why. 

  • Having no explanation for their sadness.
  • Loss of interest in old hobbies and enjoyable activities.
  • Feeling worthless.

Among depressive disorders, the most common is major depressive disorder. This is also known as clinical depression. However, depression can take on many forms. One type of depression occurs mainly during winter. Another type is tied to the menstrual cycle, causing suicidality and low mood during the luteal phase (between ovulation and the first day of the period). Some people struggle with mild depressive symptoms, but for years and decades, rather than intense, shorter episodes. Some people experience depressive symptoms for months before experiencing feelings of mania and hyperactivity.

It isn’t clear how or why depression occurs. Here’s what we do know:

  • Depression is hereditary, meaning that people with a family history of depression are also at greater risk for developing it.
  • Sometimes, depression is heavily tied to the brain – some people are wired differently and may have trouble maintaining a neutral mood.
  • In other cases, it may be linked to endocrinology, hormone production, and the adrenal glands.
  • Traumatic experiences and chronic stress can also trigger depression in people who might otherwise not have experienced depressive episodes.
  • Depression can be heavily exacerbated by a number of biological, psychological, and social factors. Grief, lack of sleep, poor diet, chronic pain, and substance use can compound and worsen depressive episodes.

Getting Professional Help

An estimated 8 percent of teens struggle with a depressive disorder, and by the time they turn 21, up to 15 percent of people have had at least one episode of a mood disorder. Getting professional help for this condition is crucial. Depression is highly treatable through a combination of talk therapy and medication.

However, only about 40 percent of teens who need treatment are getting help. The other 60 percent are not receiving treatment. Two-thirds of teens who do get help aren’t getting consistent treatment. COVID has only further complicated both access and availability of mental healthcare resources and access to treatment, as well as leading to a significant increase in depression rates among teens.

How to Help a Teen with Depression

We know depression is treatable. However, it can be an uphill battle to get teens the treatments they need. That is where friends and family come in.

1. Support Systems

Therapists and mental health professionals play crucial roles in treating patients with mental health issues, including millions of teens. But the most critical role is played by the parents, family, and friends of those in need.

In addition to treatment, teens with depression need a reliable support system that they can turn to for help. A support system can help a teen seek access to therapy and medication, combat loneliness, give them emotional or physical support, and more.

2. Family Therapy

In addition to offering support, a patient’s family can also play an important role in their therapy via family therapy.

In contrast to one-on-one talk therapy, family therapy sessions are aimed at addressing the family or household dynamic, finding ways to help promote mental health at home, and addressing issues such as the quality of the relationships between parents and their children or between siblings.

Teens struggling with depression may not feel comfortable confronting their family members about how they feel overwhelmed at home or overcome by expectations. Family therapy creates a framework to speak these issues out and address them in a safe space, and work through them properly.

3. Sleep and Diet

Poor sleep and poor diet are not just signs of depression. They can also significantly contribute to the severity and frequency of depressive episodes. Like an ouroboros, sleep and diet are two lifestyle factors that create a self-destructive cycle for many people with depression.

However, most teens live with family. You can help your teen by modeling healthier sleeping habits and dietary choices, eating healthier as a family, and encouraging your teen to adopt better sleep hygiene. Help them prepare their room at night (cool and dark), reduce screentime before bed, pick out soothing music together, and wake them up at a consistent time each day.

4. Exercising Together

Physical movement can do a lot to help reduce depression, provided it is consistent physical movement.

It can be challenging for teens with depression to motivate themselves, as their physical and emotional fatigue means that some days, it’s hard to see a reason for getting out of bed, let alone putting on clothes, getting a shower, or going for a jog.

Bring your teen along on walks and workouts to help them get a little bit of movement in a few times a week. Don’t overwhelm them with a strict exercise regime or an hour of exercise a day. Take it slow and pick something you can all have fun with.

Treating Depression Takes Time

Depression takes patience. It isn’t something that can be addressed in a few short sessions or a few weeks of medication. Sometimes, results are lost, and symptoms return. And other times, the first treatment tried may not be the most effective.

If you have concerns about your teen’s mental health, talk to them about speaking to a professional together. If your teen has talked about suicide or discusses suicide frequently, get help immediately.

Categories
Depression

How Many Teens Have Depression (And How to Help)

Teenage depression is among the most common kind of adolescent mental health issue, next to anxiety disorders. About 13 percent of adolescents experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017, with teen girls being as much as three times more likely to report a depressive episode than boys. An estimated 3.2 percent of kids between the ages of 3 and 17 have diagnosed depression, which is about 1.9 million people.

However, while depression is often associated with moody teens, major depression is most commonly diagnosed in adults between the ages of 40 to 59 (7 percent of men, and 12 percent of women). Despite higher overall prevalence, depression rates are growing the fastest among teens in the last few years. Rates of a major depressive episode in teenage girls went up from 12 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2017, and 5 to 7 percent for teenage boys in the same timeframe.

There are multiple reasons this might be happening – as well as many different ways you can help.

How Many Teens Have Depression, Why Is It So Common?

The factors that go into explaining why depression is on the rise are complex. On one hand, the stigma surrounding mental health issues is being reduced. Mental health conditions are becoming a greater topic both at home and in school, as well as throughout pop culture. More and more celebrities and important figures have publicly addressed their own struggles with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other conditions. More and more people are aware of at least one famous person and one person in their own lives who has struggled with a mental health condition. Resources and options for tackling depression have become more common, as well as more accessible.

While teens are still not getting the help they need, more and more are feeling comfortable with seeking it. This means that as we continue to accept mental health conditions as an unfortunate and treatable reality, we will see rates continue to rise. Yet aside from that, the factors that may influence and cause depression in teens have also grown over time. News stories, studies, and industry research such as the Facebook Papers have revealed that technologies like social media can have a negative impact on teen self-esteem and mental health. Even if they don’t cause depression, they can and do exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Screen time may not be as much of an issue as what teens are seeing on their screens. In addition to discouraging body standards and FOMO, exploitative advertising and constant news media can exacerbate depressive symptoms. Teens live in an era of increasing inflation, greater academic stress, rising costs, stagnant wages, record wealth inequality, and global climate change. The recent pandemic hasn’t helped reduce depressive rates – isolation, repeated lockdowns, and COVID-related deaths and grief have taken a massive toll on hundreds of millions of teens worldwide. Many teens are struggling to conceive a positive future.

Teens aren’t alone. Depression rates have been growing among other age groups as well, for many of the same reasons. From the financial crisis to COVID, there have been many recent events that have triggered an uptick in mental health issues, and access to better resources means more people are likely to come forward and seek the help they need. And in many cases, it can be argued that conditions like depression are still underdiagnosed.

Do Children Get Depressed?

Kids under 12 can experience depression. While the teen years are the usual onset period for depressive disorders, ranging from major depressive disorder to conditions like seasonal affective disorder (based on seasonal changes) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, young children can and do exhibit signs of depressive behavior. These include long-term loss of interest in hobbies, social withdrawal, poor academic performance, unresponsiveness, sleep problems, rapid weight loss or weight gain, and other similar symptoms.

Helping Your Teen with Depression

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, then there are multiple ways to help or seek help. Let’s go over a few of the most important ones.

Seek Professional Help Together

Depression is a very treatable mental health issue. It isn’t curable, but it can be managed and reduced to the point where most patients can live long and fulfilling lives in spite of their diagnosis. Depression isn’t always for life, either – symptoms may last months or years, but can and do go away. Professional treatment is often your best bet for overcoming depressive symptoms, or helping a loved one get better.

The treatment for depression is a combination of individual talk therapy and antidepressant medication. SSRIs are the most prescribed antidepressants because they are generally well-tolerated and have minimal side effects. They work by increasing the availability of serotonin in a person, which may improve mood by a significant enough margin for other long-term interventions to help reduce symptoms and manage depressive episodes.

If SSRIs don’t work, doctors may consider prescribing other classes of antidepressants. It can take multiple weeks for an antidepressant to fully take effect, as well as multiple weeks to safely cycle off of an antidepressant. If you think you may be depressed, or know someone who may be depressed, you should talk to an adult about getting help or bring them to a therapist or psychiatrist to get tested.

Encourage Journaling and Other Positive Coping Skills

Aside from professional treatment, the legwork of beating depression begins at home. Create and foster a supportive environment by prioritizing healthy physical and mental life choices. Help your teen eat better, get enough rest, and encourage them to exercise with you or with friends. Help them track their mental exercises and post-therapy work. Help them set goals and pick up old hobbies or discover new ones. Help them stay consistent in their coping skills.

Work with their friends to create a support system they can rely on. Many therapists also offer family therapy sessions to help educate friends and family on depression and help them become better allies for their loved one.

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Anxiety Depression

How to Cope with Anxiety and Depression (Advice for Teens)

If you experience the debilitating symptoms of anxiety or depression, you may be interested in learning how to cope with anxiety and depression.

Do you have a hard time concentrating? Do you sometimes struggle with unexplained aches and pains? Does your mind keep repeating things to put you down, such as negative memories, self-deprecating comments, or self-loathing thoughts? Do you find yourself anxious and worried about everything, yet nothing in particular – or something in particular, but all the time, even when it’s irrelevant? 

Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health diagnoses in the world. Nearly one in five Americans struggles with an anxiety disorder, and about one in ten struggle with depression. Among people with anxiety, as many as 60 percent may have depressive thoughts. Finally, the most common onset for these mental health issues is adolescence, an already complicated time in our lives to begin with. 

Teenage anxiety and depression are still on a rise, and while teens need to learn ways to cope with their fears and thoughts, it’s important to realize that this is always a team effort. Whether you’re a teen, a friend, or a parent, learning more about how to overcome anxiety and depression is crucial, as is knowing how and when to provide support. 

In this article, you will learn how to cope with anxiety and depression.

How are Anxiety and Depression Linked?

The link between anxiety and depression is far more than tangential. These are often comorbid conditions, meaning that they frequently co-occur in patients. 

Comorbidity matters because the way these conditions affect each other can affect treatment – and it can affect the ideal treatment strategy, including certain coping strategies. 

Comorbid mental illnesses are particularly poorly understood because there isn’t as much research on them as physical comorbidities, and they can be harder to identify as it’s tricky to try and attribute each symptom to one or the other condition(s). 

But as far as mental health comorbidities go, anxiety and depression are still the most researched. We know that specialized treatment plans can be implemented to address both diagnoses, and we know that when anxiety and depression symptoms present themselves together, they can reinforce one another, so concurrent treatment – meaning addressing both anxiety and depression at once – is critical.

The elements that tie anxiety and depression together are multifaceted. For one, there may be a genetic component. Teens with both anxiety and depression may have a genetic predisposition towards either or both. 

The primary symptom of anxiety and depression is also very similar, in that both can be defined by negative or maladaptive thinking. A person with a mood disorder will additionally have a low mood and may have a much harder time cheering up. 

Environmental factors matter as well. Both depression and anxiety are common in high-stress environments, especially during childhood. People with post-traumatic stress disorder, a form of anxiety, are more likely to be depressed as well. 

These conditions feed themselves in a cyclical fashion. Anxious thoughts can trigger an irrational response to an insurmountable or uncontrollable problem, leading to inevitable failure and the inability to fulfill unrealistic expectations, which can trigger self-loathing, guilt, and depression. Similarly, depressive thinking can lead to more negative and worrying thoughts, and that fear feeds anxiety. 

Identifying Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression have multiple hallmark characteristics, as well as more obscure symptoms. 

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Oversleeping
  • Low energy levels
  • Physical response to stress (rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, abdominal pain)
  • Persistent low mood
  • Repeated comments on suicide and self-harm
  • Unexplained pain
  • Sudden change in appetite (both gain and loss)
  • Sudden loss of interest in hobbies
  • Irrational fear

It can be difficult to differentiate between disordered behavior and normal stress response. Not every period of sadness is a depression, and not every pre-exam stress-related rant is an anxiety attack. 

Keep in mind that an important defining characteristic for disordered thinking or behavior is that it plays an active role in disrupting a teen’s day-to-day life, causing havoc on their responsibilities, interests, and relationships over the course of multiple weeks. If you’re not sure, it always helps to talk to your teen and bring up the idea of visiting a professional together. 

Identifying Useful Coping Skills for Teens

Coping skills are tools teenagers can utilize to reduce the impact that life’s stressors can have on them, and reduce the severity of their symptoms. Coping skills are not necessarily a replacement for therapy and treatment. They’re a supplemental tool to help improve a teen’s quality of life and resilience. Most coping skills revolve around: 

  • Helping teens build up confidence and self-esteem
  • Helping teens vent their emotions and thoughts in a healthy way
  • Helping teens have fun and feel better

Effective coping skills include: 

  • Journaling
  • Crafts and art projects
  • Drawing and painting
  • Walks in nature
  • Exercise
  • Social activities

An effective treatment plan for both depression and anxiety utilizes coping skills as a way to teach teens that they can affect their mental health in the long-term, in coordination with important treatment modalities such as: 

Can You Cope Alone?

There are a lot of topics surrounding mental healthcare and self-care, and it’s important not to misunderstand this trend as meaning that we all need to take sole responsibility for our mental health. 

Yes, how you feel and what you do obviously plays the largest role in your mental health.

But support is crucial. Many people fail to seek out the help they need without a push or intervention from their loved ones. Many fail to adhere to treatment schedules without their loved ones. And at the end of the day, whether or not we struggle with anxiety or depression, we all need friends and family to be around. 

You shouldn’t feel pressured to take the matter of treatment into your own hands, at all. Seek help. Talk to an adult. Get to a counselor. Schedule a therapist. Or, ask your parents or teachers to help you navigate available resources and do these things with you.

Coping skills are the same way. They aren’t necessarily a means for you to be self-reliant in treatment. They play a role in helping you reduce the impact of the stressors around you and improve your quality of life by reducing the severity of your symptoms. They might, but don’t necessarily need to replace therapy and medication.

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Depression

7 Common Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

The winter blues are a known and common phenomenon. Every winter, millions of people feel inexplicably down, to the point that over a quarter of Americans report fatigue and a fifth of Americans report significant stress during the holiday season. 

But beyond the usual blues, several million Americans struggle with a more severe form of seasonal sadness called seasonal affective disorder. 

Seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder. What sets this condition apart from other mood disorders like major depressive disorder is that it correlates with the changing of the seasons, usually peaking in winter (most often) or summer

Winter months in temperate climates are characterized by shorter days and longer nights. These long nights and lack of sunlight can partially contribute to the development of a seasonal affective disorder, although the causes are often deeper than that. 

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder is defined as either a winter-pattern disorder or a summer-pattern disorder, both of which share similar symptoms, yet may develop for different reasons. Not all seasonal affective disorder is tied to a lack of sunlight, although many cases respond well to light therapy or the use of a UV lamp in the dark morning hours. 

Some of the most common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can be debilitating, making even the simplest tasks feel enormous during the lowest lows. 

This causes many with seasonal affective disorder to struggle to be productive or present during their low mood season, which can further deepen their feelings of sadness and self-deprecation. Let’s take a look at the most common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. 

Low Mood and Depression

The primary symptom of seasonal affective disorder is persistent low mood following seasonal changes. Symptoms for a seasonal affective disorder usually last around four to five months, either over the summer or winter. In both cases, it’s the depression itself – consistently low mood and sadness – that can be considered the most defining symptom. 

The main difference between depression and sadness is frequency and cause. We can all be sad, and sadness is a natural human emotion. 

But depression is a disordered kind of sadness that persists for weeks at a time, with no definite cause. A depressed person will have a harder time getting cheered up, will rarely respond to joy, and might fall right back into a depressive thought pattern after a moment of happiness. They may feel sad most of the day, and most days of the week. 

Low mood informs many of the other symptoms in a seasonal affective disorder. It can result in fatigue and loss of motivation, lack of appetite or stress eating, insomnia, oversleeping, and more. 

Irritability and Frustration

While depression is usually associated with passiveness and loss of energy, irritability is a common symptom in mood disorders like seasonal affective disorder. Irritability can come from feelings of frustration and disappointment, such as feeling powerless in the face of depression and frustrated at one’s own lack of motivation. It can be very easy to blame oneself when struggling with depression while lashing out at others. 

This can complicate convincing someone to get help. They may feel that they don’t need it, or that it would be wasted on them. They may feel shame at the idea of being diagnosed with a condition. It’s important to convince a loved one that professional treatment will help them organize and combat their thoughts, and live a better, more resilient life. 

Restlessness and Oversleeping

Insomnia and oversleeping are common symptoms for seasonal affective disorder, with insomnia being more common in summer-pattern cases, and oversleeping (hypersomnia) being more common in winter-pattern cases. 

Sleep hygiene is a big problem in mood disorders, and depressive thoughts are a major contributing factor to why people struggle to get up or go to bed at appropriate hours. 

Getting ready to face the day can be difficult when every little action feels like an insurmountable challenge. Addressing one’s sleep hygiene and getting professional therapeutic help for insomnia and oversleeping can massively improve mood. 

Poor Concentration and Focus

Another recognizable and important symptom of depressive disorders like SAD is the diminished ability to concentrate. 

More than just reducing motivation, depressive disorders have a direct impact on a person’s memory, problem-solving skills, and cognitive abilities. It can become harder to focus and pay attention, and retain information as it is received. 

This translates into poor performance at school and work, seeming inattentive in conversations at home, and being more aloof, as well as having a harder time completing tasks, no matter how intensive. 

Somatic Pain and Fatigue

Somatic pain and fatigue are the most significant physical symptoms of a depressive disorder like SAD. Somatic pain can occur seemingly out of nowhere, with characteristic depression-related aches and pains often involving stomach pain, headaches, joint pain, and back pain. 

In addition to new aches, depression directly affects pain sensitivity and reduces our tolerance for pain signals, exacerbating existing physical ailments, some of which often get significantly worse during the winter months

Loss of Interest

Losing interest in a hobby and picking up a new one is normal, especially for teens. But losing all motivation to engage in what used to be fun, and not picking up any new hobbies is often a sign of a deeper problem. 

Anhedonia, or the inability to feel joy, is a common symptom of mood disorders and means being robbed of what made you happy. 

Appetite Changes

Summer-pattern SAD commonly experiences loss of appetite, while winter-pattern SAD experiences a sharp gain in appetite or stress eating. 

A poor relationship with food and malnutrition are common problems in mood disorders, as they make it much harder to care about nutrition and physical health, while either leading to a stress-related drop or spike in caloric intake and associated health issues. 

Seasonal affective disorder is more severe than the typical winter blues that affect most people. To be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, a psychiatrist must determine that your symptoms of depression are relative to the change in season and severe enough to require treatment.

Categories
Depression

How to Help Your Teenager with Depression

Depressive disorders affect well over 13 percent of teens in the US, representing a growing number of adolescents growing up with periods of abnormally low mood and fatigue. Understanding why depression occurs, what it looks like, and how it can be treated is important for any modern parent. While therapists and mental health professionals are critical partners when helping your teen face their struggles, a parent’s role is still the most important when it comes to supporting and helping your teenager with depression, as they rise to the challenges of adulthood.

Understand How to Help Your Teenager with Depression

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is one of the most commonly diagnosed mood disorders and mental health issues in the world. It is characterized by a persistently low mood, and feelings of physical and mental fatigue, lasting at least two weeks. Depressive episodes aren’t always triggered by loss or trauma, but can be exacerbated by past and ongoing stressors.

Many teenagers who struggle with depression cannot clearly articulate why they feel the way they do and might not even be able to pinpoint a cause or date of onset – the feeling simply starts and doesn’t go away for a long time. Separating depression from normal sadness or the typical growing pains of adolescence can be difficult, but there are a few telltale signs. Depressive episodes are always more severe than what the average teen goes through, as well as long-lasting. Some common elements in depression that might not always be present in regular sadness include:

  • loss of energy and willingness to engage in old hobbies or fun activities.
  • loss of joy or happiness (anhedonia).
  • unexplained recurring aches and pains.
  • a sharp decline or increase in appetite, and associated weight loss/gain.
  • trouble falling asleep, and a hard time waking up.

Another common element is the feeling of hopelessness. A teen with depression will, more than just melodramatically, assume that they’re dead weight to others, or that they are unloved or unwanted. They will feel guilty for minor mistakes and might talk about feelings of worthlessness. Some more severe symptoms sometimes associated with long-term depression include signs of self-harm and suicidal ideation, both of which require the immediate attention of a mental health professional.

Depression Comes in Many Forms

Not all types of depression are the same. Alongside major depressive disorder, some of the most common types of depression include persistent depression, seasonal affective disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorderPersistent depression is a form of depression with milder symptoms, but a much longer duration. A teen who struggles with persistent depression might not have intense bouts of depression over multiple years but will feel consistently low mood and low energy for at least two years. Sometimes, persistent depression can fly under the radar as a teen simply becomes less outgoing and appears more withdrawn or distant with age, while struggling with more fatigue and less general happiness.

It’s important to talk with your teen and understand how they’re feeling on a regular basis. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that is usually triggered by the shift in weather as things approach winter. Also known as the winter blues, it is a legitimate mental health disorder characterized by a crashing mood during the winter months. Some of it is attributable to holiday stressors, and another element may be a lack of endogenous vitamin D from sunlight. Among other treatments like therapy and medication, seasonal affective disorder can be treated with phototherapy, utilizing a special UV lamp in the morning hours.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a more severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) characterized by a severe drop in mood during the week or two before a woman’s period starts. It is also characterized by a sharp increase in anxiety and irritability, and often requires medication. Alongside PMDD, adolescent depression can also be triggered by other physical conditions, including thyroid conditions, abnormal growths, and chronic pain disorders.

How Depression Is Treated

Depression is treated with two concurrent elements: medication and therapy. Some types of depression are treated with other modalities – such as phototherapy, birth control, and hormone treatments – but the first-line treatment for most signs of adolescent depression are antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy. Antidepressants are a wide-ranging class of drugs, usually involving selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, as well as alternative and older antidepressants.

Each class of antidepressants functions a little differently, and among them, there are many different branded formulations that achieve the same effect through different pathways. The general idea with any antidepressant, however, is to correct or compensate for an issue in a teen’s chemical neurotransmission, such as by making serotonin more readily available in the brain. However, therapy is just as important as medication. A teen’s treatment will always depend on the severity and nature of their symptoms, as well as their diagnosis and concurrent health issues, mental or physical.

Therapy is the most well-tolerated treatment of all, involving two or more people having a guided and productive conversation. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, the most common type of talk therapy, a therapist helps a teen identify and differentiate unwanted or misguided thoughts, and actively work on introducing healthier, more positive thoughts, thereby affecting and altering their behavior for the better as well. This type of therapy works on the principle that thoughts guide actions, and that we can work on changing the way we think by becoming more aware of our thought patterns and the beliefs we hold about ourselves.

Support Your Teenager with Depression

One of the most important elements of support is support for a teen’s treatment. Parents should work with their teen’s healthcare providers to help them stay on track with their medication and appointments, and encourage them to work on lessons learned in therapy, from trying out new and different coping mechanisms, to encourage them to pick up old interests and hobbies and do things they enjoy. Building a teen’s self-esteem starts with helping them get good at something they like doing, and encouraging them to pursue it. Support also means being patient. It takes time for both medication and therapy to begin working, and it can take time for a teen to internalize what they’ve learned.

Depressive symptoms can be reduced over time through a consistent and individualized treatment approach, and it’s more effective the earlier depression is diagnosed and treated. If your teen is showing telltale signs of a depressive episode, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it. They may have been waiting for the right opportunity to open up, or don’t know how or where to ask for help. They might not know why they feel the way they do, or are afraid of being labeled. Work with them to get them the help they need – and learn more about how you can support them.

Categories
Depression

7 Warning Signs of Adolescent Depression

There are several common warning signs of adolescent depression. Adolescent depression affects an estimated 13 percent of teens aged 12 to 17 across the United States, particularly affecting older adolescents and those with negative school experiences and less authoritative households. 

Unlike general sadness, depressive disorders are characterized by long-lasting and persistent low mood, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, and a combination of other physical and emotional symptoms. While the factors behind depression are complex and often hereditary, the trigger for its onset can be anything from parental pressure to academic expectations, a traumatic event, a codependent condition, or age. 

Warning Signs of Adolescent Depression

The pandemic has only made matters worse, affecting teens especially through the closure of schools and social spaces. Even as we move towards an eventual post-pandemic “new normal”, it’s important to take care of our mental health, and of the mental health of our children. 

Recognizing adolescent depression early can help us equip our teens with the means to combat growing symptoms, reduce the onset of other mental health issues, and provide an important framework for seeking support and stability later in life. 

Here are seven common warning signs of adolescent depression.

Irregular Sleeping Schedule

Some teens struggle with sleep more than others, but a common mark of depression is an inconsistent sleep schedule that often includes long periods of restlessness and insomnia, and chronic oversleeping. Teens struggling with depressive thoughts may lie awake for hours unable to fall asleep, only to struggle to get out of bed – even staying in until noon or longer on the weekends. 

When observing your teen’s sleeping routines, take note of how long they tend to stay in bed after waking up. Another common hallmark of depression is that it makes even the little things (like a change of clothing or getting up out of bed) seem insurmountably difficult. 

If your teen spends multiple hours on school-free days remaining in bed even after they’ve woken up, they’re not just trying to avoid their chores or laze around. They might be stuck in a deep, dark place. 

Irritability and Mood Changes

Teens are known for mood shifts, and they are more likely to be irritable than the average adult. But depression-related mood changes transcend the angry teen stereotype. 

If your teen has completely unprovoked and random outbursts and struggles heavily with maintaining a positive mood – to the point where their mood typically fluctuates between sad and frustrated, with few notes in between – they may be going through something difficult. 

Loss of Interest in Other Hobbies

It’s perfectly normal to grow out of your hobbies as you get older, but it’s an entirely different thing to fall off most interests completely. 

One of the hallmark characteristics of depression is that it is immensely tiring, to the point that it can leave you too tired and disinterested to pick up and do the things you used to love doing, from cooking to drawing, or in some cases, even playing video games or reading books. 

This is especially true for social hobbies – depression can lead teens to back away from doing the things they used to love doing with others. Some teens pick up other hobbies, while some don’t, and instead spend more time isolating themselves. It’s important to remember that one of the most devastating elements of a depressive disorder is anhedonia, or the inability to feel joy. 

Physical and Mental Fatigue

Teens with depression are much more tired than their peers, regardless of how well or long they slept or rested. They’re low energy, struggling to keep up with their friends, perform academic tasks, study, do their work, or even find the energy to hang out with friends. 

They might keep up well enough to mask their symptoms for some time, but their behavior might still feel off, as though they’re struggling to be present and awake

In many cases, it’s part of the mental toll that depression takes on both the mind and the body. But in other cases, severe fatigue may be a sign that a teen’s depression could be related to their thyroid function, or another physical condition, such as a chronic pain disorder. 

Unexplained Pain

Depression increases the body’s sensitivity to pain (making existing pain stronger) and reduces the body’s threshold for pain (making more pain noticeable). 

This can lead to unexplained aches and pains tied to a teen’s mood and mental state – even without any obvious physical symptoms, a teen can experience somatic pain as a result of their depression.

Inversely, combatting depressive symptoms can have a marked improvement on a teen’s pain, to the point where antidepressants and the pain-relieving (and mood-improving) mechanisms of dopamine are important pain management tools for physical conditions like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. 

Feeling Inadequate and Mentioning Suicide

A generalized bleak outlook on life, repeatedly making statements about being or feeling useless, commenting on how no one would notice if they were gone, or even joking about, mocking, or frequently mentioning suicide are just a few of the common signs of teenage depression. 

By projecting their sadness through daily conversations and through their outlook on life, teens can try to call attention to how they feel while verbalizing what depression feels like – a dark voice amplifying every negative thing while drowning out every hint of hope. 

Self-Harm and Physical Neglect

Another common form of negative self-expression for teens is self-harm. Physical self-harm also becomes a short-term maladaptive coping mechanism for some teens. 

Cutting, burning, or scratching themselves elicits a burst of pain followed by pain-relieving endogenous endorphins, neurotransmitters that essentially dull the pain and make us feel good for a brief period. 

This can create a toxic feedback loop where a teen seeks to hurt themselves in order to experience a short burst of euphoria. 

Physical neglect, on the other hand, often goes hand-in-hand with the overwhelming fatigue that follows other depressive symptoms. Teens may have a hard time convincing themselves to get a shower or a change of clothes or clean their surroundings. Doing so can, in an inverse way, positively affect their outlook and help fight symptoms of depression. 

While these are some of the most common signs of teen depression, it’s important to note that no two cases are exactly alike and that there are many subtle ways in which even seemingly happy or well-adjusted teens can be suffering from dark and intrusive depressive thinking. 

It’s important to pay attention and listen to your teen, follow the subtext of their behavior, and ask them how they’re doing from time to time. Getting help for your teen as early as possible will give them the best possible outlook on defeating anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Categories
Depression

Is Your Teen Depressed or an Introvert?

Is your teen depressed or an introvert?

What some parents might interpret as gloomy behavior, others might recognize as an alternative approach to comfort and contentment. Introversion is a personality trait that is best defined as a preference for fewer social engagements, smaller friend groups, and more time spent alone. 

Introverts aren’t necessarily obsessed with solitude, and they need the warmth of another human being in their life as much as anyone else. But they cherish their emotional comfort zone and are certainly less outgoing than their extroverted counterparts. 

An introverted teen is not any less capable of social interaction on a one-on-one level. Neither are they automatically struggling with dark, depressing thoughts, or horrid anxiety. However, introversion can correlate with both depression and anxiety, and some researchers believe this may tie into how introverted thinking and behavior often lead to more self-critical thought. 

But it can be a slippery slope, especially when parents and teachers begin to suspect and label introverted behavior as a sign of depression, or another mental health issue. Learning to differentiate between the two is important. 

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at a common question – Is my teen depressed or an introvert?

Is Your Teen Depressed or an Introvert?

There’s no one to blame in this. Some people are inclined to feel better when they have a place to withdraw to and can minimize their interactions with others. On the other hand, it’s natural for parents to worry that such behavior can have a long-term impact on a teen’s mental wellbeing, their relationships with others, and their communicative skills. 

There are a lot of parallels to draw between introversion and depression, especially in the eyes of more extroverted people. Seeing someone deliberately going out of their way to avoid going out with friends, meeting new people, or having fun at parties and get-togethers doesn’t seem healthy. 

But introverted preferences are hereditary and might even be explained physiologically through differences in inherent dopamine levels

So, how can a parent or friend recognize and differentiate depression from an inherent desire to spend less time around other people? 

Depression has many other markers and signs that point towards it and differentiate it from normal introverted behavior. Looking for these markers can help you better understand if your teen is truly okay, or if they’re trying to hide their worries. 

So, is your teen depressed or an introvert?

What is Clinical Depression?

Being diagnosed with depression and feeling depressed are two separate things. Psychiatry makes a point of clearly differentiating between feeling sad – a normal and important emotion – and depression, which is characterized by abnormally long bouts of sadness, anhedonia (inability to feel joy), hopelessness, and low self-worth (even when others around you provide love and affirmation). 

Clinical depression, or major depressive disorder, is the most commonly diagnosed mood disorder in the US and can also be considered the “main” type of depression. But depression can come in many different forms, including seasonal depression (or the winter blues), PMDD, dysthymia, and bipolar disorder. 

The main characteristics of a depressive disorder are fatigue and inescapable sadness. It may be episodic, or it can ever-present, with different waves of intensity. For some people, it can last a few months, with severe thoughts of self-hatred and suicidal ideation. For others, it’s like a constant hum over years. 

Wanting to be alone can be a sign of depression, but extroverts can be depressed too. While looking for signs and symptoms is important, and recognizing them is crucial, we should take a moment to remember that there is no clear-cut definition of what a depressed person should look like. The disorder can manifest itself in different ways, and symptoms can be masked or exacerbated by other, related conditions, from severe anxiety to substance use. 

Recognizing Depression in Your Teen

The signs and symptoms of a depressive disorder depend on a teen’s environment, personality, and other potential mental health issues. The most common signs can include: 

  • Irregular and unhealthy sleeping habits (sleeping in too much, as well as insomnia). 
  • Being visibly sad over weeks with no improvement in mood. 
  • Indescribable fatigue, even simple tasks seem impossible (getting out of bed, showering). 
  • Frequently discussing or bringing up topics of death and suicide. 
  • Joking or making serious statements about one’s own uselessness. 
  • Talking about not being missed. 
  • Being unresponsive to shows of affection or affirmation. 
  • Slower decision-making, struggling to pay attention at school. 
  • Irritability and frustration, particularly towards oneself. 
  • Signs of self-harm (cutting, burning, biting, hair-tearing, etc.)
  • Isolating frequently. 
  • Avoiding old hobbies and friends. 
  • Constantly seeming “drained”. 
  • And more. 

Teens may be more prone to both introversion and depression following months of isolation during the pandemic. 

What Does It Mean to Be Introverted?

While we can link introversion and depression, there’s no reason to believe that one causes the other. The correlation may be a bit more complicated than that. 

Introversion is linked to depression, with potential factors including a genetic predisposition towards mental health issues like anxiety and depression, as well as a greater incidence of self-criticism among introverted individuals. 

However, combatting and treating depression does not mean trying to change your personality. An introverted teen will not become extroverted as a result of their treatment, and treatment for depression is not “treatment for introversion”. 

Is Introversion Normal?

Introversion is common. It is not a black-and-white state, meaning a person can have (and usually does have) both introverted and extroverted qualities. Most people share somewhat of an affinity for both, while generally leaning more towards introverted or extroverted thoughts and behavior. 

Teens who were previously extroverted may become more introverted as a result of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, they may become somewhat more extroverted after a successful recovery from depression and anxiety, although not at the same level as before. However, a teen who was introverted to begin with is unlikely to become more extroverted after recovering from a bout with depression. 

It’s not necessarily a negative thing to be introverted. While rates of anxiety and depression are higher in teens with introverted personality traits, their introversion also grants them greater self-awareness and sensitivity. 

Furthermore, we don’t have any robust evidence to suggest that low extroversion and neuroticism (the tendency to focus on the negative) compound the risk of developing mental health issues. What this means is that neuroticism may be a greater predictive factor for depression and anxiety than low or high extroversion. And teen neuroticism can be reduced during treatment, via therapeutic methods such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

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Anxiety Depression Parenting

What Parents Should Know About Teenage Depression and Anxiety

Teenage depression and anxiety are on the rise, and parents need all the help they can get to address and confront these conditions alongside their children. Understanding how and why mood and anxiety disorders can develop remain key to treating these issues in the long term. While expert help and professional care are a big part of the treatment process, the support coming from friends and family should never be underestimated.

Understanding Teenage Depression and Anxiety

Long-term recovery involves repeating and practicing therapy methods together, training coping mechanisms, and knowing when to call in professional help. Teens with anxiety and depression will have good days and bad days, like anyone else – but the bad days can be especially bad, while the good days might feel far and few between sometimes. Here’s what you need to know about teenage depression and anxiety.

What Teen Depression Looks Like

Adolescence is a common point of onset for symptoms of depression, the most commonly diagnosed mood disorder. Like other mood disorders, depression is primarily characterized by abnormally low mood, for long periods of time. Some people mistake depression for sadness or feel like psychiatry tries to equate the two. It is normal to be sad, and it is important to feel sadness when appropriate. The appropriateness is also entirely subjective, where some people would feel sad when most wouldn’t, or experience sadness in different shapes and sizes. 

But when sadness becomes a normal state, when deep sorrow and poor mood are elicited by nothing at all, and when a teen repeatedly expresses pure frustration at the fact that they cannot pinpoint a reason for their thoughts and feelings, then you and your loved one may be dealing with a case of depression. The biopsychosocial mechanism behind major depressive disorder and other mood disorders is complex, and it’s difficult to blame any one thing for how and why depression occurs.

Genetics definitely play a part, and the condition is hereditary. That means people with multiple family members with a history of depression have a greater risk of developing the condition at some point. Not all cases of depression are life-long or permanent. Some come and go, are stronger during certain phases of life versus others, or only last for a few harrowing months. Persistent depressive disorder describes a less severe form of depression which can last years, or even become a life-long condition. Then there are forms of depression which may be tied to illness or other physiological conditions, such as:

  • Depression caused by chronic pain.
  • Depression caused by thyroid illnesses.
  • Depression tied with premenstrual symptoms and hormone issues.

Environmental factors cannot be ignored either. Good food, good sleep, and a good relationship at home all reduce the impact of depression, reduce symptoms, and act as protective factors against it. The opposite, however, can greatly exacerbate the condition. Like an ouroboros, it’s also much easier for people with depression to suffer from poor diets, lack of sleep, and relationship troubles, as they struggle to provide for themselves during deep episodes, oversleep or can’t get to sleep, and inadvertently push their friends and loved ones away. 

Depression and Self-Harm

The most severe symptoms associated with depression are self-harm and suicidal ideation. Self-harm is commonly seen in the form of cutting, but can also take on other forms, such as burns, biting, and scratching. Non-deliberate self-harm, or reckless behavior, can be another sign of depression. This includes substance use and high-risk activities, such as unprotected sex and drunk driving. 

Suicidal ideation, or intent, includes other signs and symptoms than a history of suicide attempts. Frequently discussing and romanticizing death, making dry jokes about one’s death or suicide on a regular basis, discussing and considering the idea of dying or passing away, talking about being useless or unnecessary for the happiness of others, and talking about feelings of meaninglessness are common forms of suicidal ideation. 

What Teen Anxiety Looks Like

Anxiety describes a series of mental health issues characterized by excessive or overwhelming worry, and an oppressive sense of dread or fear. It may not always be deliberate or targeted, but might instead feel like a heavy weight pressing down on one’s shoulders or chest, both metaphorically and physically. Anxious teens will feel less sure about themselves, more likely to contemplate failure, more likely to entertain negative “what if” scenarios, and will have a harder time calming down, or even breathing properly

Anxiety Is Common

Anxiety disorders are some of the most diagnosed mental health conditions in the world, and it’s estimated that at least about 18 percent of Americans struggle with anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most common types, characterized by symptoms of overarching anxiety and worry in life. Teens with anxiety are more likely to develop panic attacks in moments of stress, have a hard time concentrating on anything, will obsess over problems, and might constantly worry about failure.

More specific anxiety disorders include social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and other phobias. These are conditions characterized by such an immense fear of something that it leads to irrational behavior. While we are all prone to do irrational things in the face of fear, anxiety disorders set themselves apart by allowing and provoking intense fear, even without any triggering stimuli. This can cause anxious thoughts and worries even in the most calming of times.

Finally, anxiety disorders also include conditions like OCD. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health issue in two parts, first characterized by unwanted and intrusive thoughts, followed by ritualistic, compulsive behavior meant to soothe those thoughts. It feeds into itself, creating a destructive, anxiety-ridden cycle. 

More Than Just Therapy

First-line treatment for teenage depression and anxiety disorders depends on the diagnosis, whether they have multiple concurrent disorders, and a few other factors. Common teenage depression and anxiety treatments will include antidepressants (usually SSRIs), certain anti-anxiety medication, beta blockers, and talk therapy (often in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy).

In the longer term, a doctor may recommend family therapy and continued group therapy to help teens discover and find out how other people cope with their disorders, form new friendships, and develop a better relationship with their family members. Getting informed about your teen’s condition – through their doctor, and through reputable sources of information online – can greatly help them get better, through your support.

Categories
Depression

Choosing the Right Teen Depression Treatment Program

Surveys show that depression remains underdiagnosed among teenagers alone as over 3.2 million experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017, compared to just about 2 million a decade earlier. While the data suggests that these episodes are more common in girls than boys, neither received as much treatment as they should, with only 45 percent of teenage girls and 33 percent of teenage boys getting help for their symptoms.

Major depressive disorder has been diagnosed in over 1.9 million children between the ages of 3 and 17, and depression and anxiety remain the two most diagnosed mental health disorders in the United States. Treatment for these disorders has come a long way, yet many remain confused about how to address depression at home and where to seek help. Teen depression can sometimes be mistaken for normal behavior, while in other cases, grief or typical sadness are mistaken for depression. Understanding how these conditions manifest and what sets them apart is important.

Understanding Teen Depression

Depressive disorders count as mood disorders caused or influenced by a wide variety of risk factors and potential co-occurring conditions. External and internal factors each play a significant role in mood regulation and motivation. They may contribute to the development of depression, from internal processes that affect how certain neurotransmitters are released and received to the long-term mental and neurological effects of chronic stress or sudden trauma. The defining characteristics of teen depression are a sudden loss of interest in old friends and hobbies, usually accompanied by a recurring or constant:

    • Sadness
    • Lack of energy
    • Lack of motivation
    • And physical symptoms (nagging aches, pains, and restlessness)

One of the hallmarks of teen depression is overwhelming irritability, more so than normal and more often than in adults. Teens who are depressed may suddenly become disinterested, but also more defiant and disrespectful, and unmanageably gloomy. Parents might expect a drop in academic performance, and while this is true for some cases, in other cases, the pressure to perform may fuel a teen’s depression. They may continue to perform well at school (physically and/or virtually) while feeling miserable.

Types of Teen Depression

Depressive disorders come in many shapes and sizes depending on the severity and origin of the depression and assorted symptoms. Teen depression can also be a symptom of other conditions, such as hypothyroidism or substance use disorder. These examples of secondary depression are not listed below. Furthermore, other rarer types of teen depression may also be diagnosed and are not listed.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major depressive disorder (MDD), also referred to as major depression and clinical depression, is the most diagnosed type of teen depression. This is a mental health disorder diagnosed in cases where a person displays consistently low mood and other symptoms of depression without an apparent preexisting psychiatric or medical cause for longer than two weeks. Symptoms can range in severity from struggling to feel joy to regularly experiencing suicidal ideation.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

Persistent depressive disorder (PDD), also referred to as dysthymia, is a milder form of depression that lasts at least two years and can last a lifetime.

Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression, also referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is characterized by symptoms being tied to a season, usually the winter, but sometimes the warmer months. Seasonal depression comes and goes, and teen depression treatment is unique in that it might address issues such as lack of natural sunlight via UV light therapy. Sometimes, seasonal depression is tied to the stress that comes from a hectic seasonal job or the financial and social strain of the holidays.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also referred to as manic depression, is a mood disorder characterized by depression and/or mania symptoms. Different types of bipolar disorder exist depending on the severity of either depressive or manic symptoms. In some cases, mania can present itself without depression. While juxtaposed to depression, mania is not “happiness” – instead, it is a state of mental and sometimes physical hyperactivity that may be accompanied by dangerous thoughts, delusions, and insomnia. Social anxiety is also a commonly co-occurring issue.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is tied to a teen’s menstrual cycle, with symptoms commonly occurring during a teen’s late luteal phase and usually the last one to two weeks. PMDD is recurring and is sometimes characterized as a very severe variant of PMS.

If you or your loved one struggles with low thoughts, low motivation, mood swings, and other signs of depression, be sure to contact a medical professional.

Recognizing Teen Depression

Symptoms of teen depression differ from disorder to disorder. They may sometimes be difficult to recognize due to their similarities with common tropes of teenage behavior and their differences in adult depressive symptoms. Some of the more common symptoms of teenage depression include:

    • High irritability
    • Low self-esteem
    • Unexplained pain
    • Problems with concentration
    • Withdrawal from friends and social contact
    • Loss of appetite or starkly increased appetite
    • Loss of interest in old hobbies and no new ones
    • Frequently expressing feelings of worthlessness
    • Lethargy despite sleeping enough (cannot get out of bed)

Risk Factors for Teen Depression

Depression can occur for multiple reasons across the entire biopsychosocial spectrum. This means that one’s genetics, environment, personal experiences, and thresholds for trauma all play a role in how, when, and whether depressive symptoms develop. Some risk factors include:

    • Substance use
    • Genetic factors
    • Chronic stressors
    • Traumatic experiences
    • Poor familial relationships
    • Victimization online or at school
    • Loss of a loved one or close friend
    • Socioeconomic circumstances (poverty)
    • Negative norms (violence, drug use among peers, competitiveness, and bullying)

Some types of depression are primarily tied to hormones, while others are largely neurological, tied to changes in the brain after trauma, or tied to recurring stressors. Sometimes, it is a little bit of everything. This can make identifying crucial risk factors difficult, which is why finding the right treatment can take time. Employing as many protective factors as possible is also important. Protective factors may lower the risk and help play a role in teen depression treatment. They include:

    • Nutrition
    • Physical activity
    • Familial relationships
    • Developing healthy coping skills
    • Positive norms (cooperative and nurturing environment)
    • Healthier social connections (friendships) and interactions
    • Access to better mental healthcare and healthcare resources

When, Where, and How to Seek Teen Depression Treatment

Treatments for teen addiction center around a combination of talk therapy and pharmacology. The most common and effective medical treatment for depression is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), although alternative antidepressants may be prescribed when multiple SSRIs fail. Some types of depression can only be treated by addressing the underlying condition.

In contrast, others cannot be successfully treated without addressing the co-occurring condition. Alternatives to antidepressants may also play a role in depression treatment, now and in the future. These include off-label treatments such as ketamine, and non-pharmacological options such as transcranial magnetic stimulation.

In nearly all cases of teen depression treatment, long-term CBT-based talk therapy is a central part of the plan and process. Teens with co-occurring disorders may be better treated through residential programs that help immerse them in a healing environment along with other teens. It may take time before you can find the right approach for your teen, which is why helping them create a strong support network is also important.

Categories
Anxiety Depression Holidays

Helping Your Teen Navigate Holiday Depression and Anxiety

While we usually consider the holiday season a time for joy and cheer, that feeling is not universal. Among people with mental health issues, over half (64 percent) report that the holiday season negatively impacts their condition, with 40 percent reporting that they feel somewhat worse and nearly a quarter (24 percent) reporting feeling much worse. One respondent in a survey for the National Alliance on Mental Illness stated that the “holiday season beams a spotlight on everything difficult about living with depression.”

While millions of Americans are doing their best to find the right time and space to spend with their family, the looming threat and ongoing destruction caused by COVID-19 further weighs on people’s hearts, raising anxieties about seeing friends and loved ones, and reopening fresh wounds caused by the loss of family members. There’s also seasonal/holiday depression, which affects up to 20 percent of people with major depressive disorder (MDD) and worsens depression during the winter months.

If you feel that your family, and especially your teen, are taking things quite hard during this year’s holiday season, then know that you are not alone. Millions of Americans are in mourning this year. The financial impact of a pandemic only further heightens anxieties around finances and finding work, not to mention the pain of missing family during one of the most important social occasions of the year. Understanding how the holidays might affect your teen and make them feel can help you identify the best way to help them.

Understanding the Highs and Lows of Holiday Depression

Seasonal/holiday depression, also referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a mental health condition that affects about 3 percent of the general population. Between 10 and 20 percent of people are affected by MDD, and nearly 25 percent of people are affected by bipolar disorder. Seasonal/holiday depression is a mood disorder characterized by symptoms of depression, especially during the winter months, usually tied to a combination of factors including:

    • Everyday holiday stressors around family.
    • The pressure to be social.
    • Financial stress.
    • Drastically lowered levels of daylight, which can affect the brain and induce a negative mood.

Only about 10 percent of people with seasonal/holiday depression experience symptoms during the spring and summer months, rather than the fall and winter months. Seasonal/holiday depression should not be confused with the winter blues, a separate phenomenon involving a mild dip in mood during the holidays. People with seasonal/holiday depression experience more severe symptoms, including:

    • A marked decrease in self-esteem.
    • Noticeable signs of hypersomnia (excessive sleep).
    • Intense cravings.
    • Rapid weight gain.

While the causes are not entirely laid out, research indicates that the holiday season’s stressors may be exacerbated in some people by disrupted body clocks (circadian rhythm issues) and a lack of sunlight leading to lower production and release of important mood controlling neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin.

If your teen’s mood dips severely over the holidays, then know that their low mood and irritability might not just be in response to recent events but also the winter months’ general effect. Certain protective factors and condition-specific treatments (like light therapy, utilizing artificial UV light) may help them cope better. Unlike the winter blues, seasonal/holiday depression must be diagnosed and treated by a professional.

An Especially Difficult Year

Regardless of whether your teen’s mood is significantly impacted by holiday stressors and a different day-and-night cycle, no one would argue against the fact that this year is filled with extraordinary circumstances. We could all stand to have a little more support during this challenging year.

While some of us might be keen to see it end and are eagerly looking forward to celebrating the coming of a new year and new opportunities, others reflect on the past 12 months’ events with sorrow and pain. Your teen might be reminded of a close friend or relative’s death whenever they feel the “holiday spirit,” or they think your stress from months and months of anxiety and back-to-back bad news, and it is wearing on them as well.

It takes time to recover from loss and pain, in any shape or form. But if the holidays serve up a final stinger rather than a soothing balsam, acting together could help you and your teen find some peace and make the best of things. Here are a few tips for seeking emotional stability and overcoming low moods during these next few months.

Establishing and Maintaining a Healthy Routine

The holidays can feel massively disrupting for many, especially for teens who rely on a steady routine to keep their feet on the ground and manage feelings of anxiety or loneliness. Maintaining a healthy routine even throughout the holidays might feel like it is not doing a special occasion any justice, but it may help your teen feel stable. Elements of a healthy routine might include:

    • An hour or two of exercise.
    • Limited screen time.
    • Working on a project individually or together (like fixing up an old car, learning to cook new meals, finishing a book, or practicing an instrument).
    • Continuing to work or study (or find an equivalent activity).

Having Things to Look Forward To

For many teens who are feeling down during the holidays, these next few weeks might serve mainly as a reminder of what could have been or of the sorrowful events that had come to pass in weeks prior. Having something to look forward to can help serve as a reminder to move on or focus and be grateful for future opportunities. The next date with a friend, a new graduation day, the first day of a new life at school, or even just the new year and what it might bring. Holding onto the hope of something better is essential.

Making a Difference Over the Holidays

The holidays aren’t just a time for gift-receiving – they’re also a time for gift-giving, and sometimes, that gift doesn’t need to be a new phone or a fancy necklace. If your teen is feeling down, helping those in need during the winter months (and during a pandemic) can help them reap the benefits of kindness and gratitude. There are many ways to help, from donating unwanted old clothes to volunteering at kitchens and handing out supplies. See what is being organized in your local neighborhood and pitch in with your teen any way you can.

Warning Signs and Getting Help

Sometimes, the best thing you can do to help your teen is getting them the help they need. Suppose your teen has been making frequent references to self-harm and suicide, has changed drastically in terms of personality and interests, has become entirely recluse and intensely irritable, and is generally unresponsive to all attempts to help reincorporate them into family life. In that case, it might be best to call a professional and ask for help. Convincing your teen to come to see a specialist might be difficult, but they may also be waiting for you to take notice and offer serious help as their thoughts and behavior spiral towards depression.