How to Help a Teenager with Depression

Depression affects teens more than nearly any other subset of the population, at a prevalence of 17 percent versus 8.4 percent among all US adults. That is at least 4 million kids yearly affected by one or more episodes of major depression. Nearly 3 million teens (12 percent of teens) struggle with a form of depression-related impairment, affecting their ability to perform well at school or function daily. 

While we have made great strides in recognizing depression and combatting the stigma against acknowledging mental health issues in our communities, the fight is far from over. Less than half of all teens affected by depression get the care they need – and only about 46 percent of teens diagnosed with severe depression received necessary treatment in the past year. 

In this article, we’re exploring how to help a teenager with depression.

How to Help a Teenager with Depression

As a parent, you want the best for your teenager. If you suspect your teen may be experiencing symptoms of depression, you may feel uncertain about how to help. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to provide your teen the care they need.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depressive thoughts or have been diagnosed with depression, it might help to know that you are not alone. But that is not enough. Professional mental healthcare is necessary for the effective treatment of depression. Advocate for your loved ones, and ensure they get the help they need. 

In the meantime, you can learn more about how to help your loved one at home or school through the Internet and by consulting their therapist directly. 

Here’s what you need to know about depression and how to help a teenager with depression.

Signs and Symptoms of Teen Depression

Teen depression can come in many different forms. It doesn’t always look the same. A few identifying signs are prevalent in most cases, though. These include: 

  • A severe and sudden downward shift in mood.
  • Frequently discussing death and suicide, or life without/after them. 
  • Struggling to focus or concentrate on anything, plummeting grades or harder time listening/being there. 
  • Lack of interest in old hobbies, joylessness most of the time (anhedonia). 
  • Not hanging out with friends anymore, having trouble finding new friends. Social isolation. 
  • Sudden unexplained weight gain or weight loss. 
  • Consistently low mood, a low “baseline” of emotion, meaning a teen’s mental default state is to be sad. 

Understanding the signs and symptoms of depressive illnesses is essential. Still, it is also important to know that depression can come in different forms – not all teens affected by a mood disorder are diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Other common depressive disorders include seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder

Types of Teen Depression

Depressive illnesses are often called mood disorders because their primary symptoms include depression or mania. Mania is a form of inappropriately elevated mood, usually juxtaposed with varying episodes of plummeting mood. 

Whereas depressed teens struggle to get out of bed, a manic person may be restless and insomniac, able to maintain high levels of energy for an inordinate amount of time, and may experience strange, temporary feelings of grandeur. Depression with mania is usually called bipolar disorder, and comes in different forms, including bipolar I (at least one manic episode) and bipolar II (cycling between hypomania, or a sub-manic mood, and depression). 

Other types of depression may be signposted by unique symptoms or characteristics, such as PMDD revolving around a person’s menstrual and hormone cycle. At the same time, seasonal affective disorder is usually tied to seasonal changes between autumn and winter. 

Treatments may differ between these conditions. While therapy and antidepressant medication are common first-line treatments, teens affected by seasonal affective disorder may be prescribed light therapy and vitamin D supplements. In contrast, teens with PMDD may be prescribed medical birth control to help improve symptoms. 

What Causes Depression?

When we look at a mental health condition like teen depression, there are two different contributing types of “causes.” These are internal factors (genes), and external factors (environmental stress, acute trauma, social exclusion or bullying, and other preventable and unavoidable factors). 

Rather than think of definitive causes, it is more accurate to think of these risk factors as percentage multipliers contributing to the potential onset of depression. They can increase the chance of depression developing but never guarantee it. In cases where a teen struggles with depression, a variety of different preventable and unavoidable causes rather than a single, simple reason. 

Just as certain things contribute to the risk of developing teen depression, there are also so-called protective factors that help lower the chances of depression in a teen. These include a more positive, healthier parent-child relationship, healthy physical attributes (better sleep, better diet, more exercise), avoiding negative coping habits (drinking, smoking, polydrug use, yoyo dieting/binge eating), and better access to mental healthcare. Protective factors can also play an essential rule in treatment, helping minimize symptoms and introduce healthier means of coping with stressors and depressive episodes. 

The Importance of Professional Help

If your loved one is diagnosed with depression or likely depressed, then your ability to help them yourself is sadly limited. You can’t think or feel for someone else, and depression isn’t something you can talk someone out of. Even therapists are limited in their ability to help patients alone. Usually, they apply their treatments in conjunction with pharmacological help (antidepressants), family support, and lifestyle changes. 

Treating depression requires a holistic and comprehensive approach. It’s not something you should tackle on your own, let alone without professional help. If your loved one is depressed, talk to them about potentially getting help together. Let them know they aren’t alone. Be there for them, help them schedule an appointment for an evaluation and potential diagnosis, and bring them to their first few therapy sessions. Talk to their therapist, and get a better understanding of what you can do to help. 

Do Not Underestimate Your Influence

A friend or family member’s influence on a depressed person is immense, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Even on the worst days, when you’re being pushed away and it feels like you can’t get through to the person you love, your efforts mean something, and they make a difference. 

Continue to be a role model for self-care and support your teen in every step of the treatment process. Do not give up. Things do get easier over time. 

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