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How to Help Your Teen with Depression
It’s easy to be the superhero when your child is small. Whenever they have problems, they come running to you, and you do your best to solve them. But as your child grows up, their problems become more complicated, and they become less open. This silence becomes even more obvious if they struggle with depression.
You know the symptoms, and you want to help, but firstly your teen must want your help. You cannot, however, force them to want this. If your teen is suffering from depression, they need to see a counsellor or other mental health professional. But whether or not they are open to receiving help from you is up to them.
But here are some things you CAN do:
1. Be there
This is the most important. Strengthening your relationship with your child is one of the best things you can do for them – even if they aren’t depressed.
Build empathy and understanding by putting yourself in their shoes. It can be extremely frustrating if they are constantly down and there doesn’t seem to be anything in their lives making them happy. But if your teen is feeling intensely disappointed or frustrated, they might avoid things they used to like or hide in their rooms.
All you can do is be compassionate and curious. Try to understand what is troubling your teen without trying to solve the problem. Try not to let your emotions get involved; your concern can come across as critical. People don’t like when others try to fix them, so make sure your teen understands that you see them, you hear them, and you love them just the way they are.
You might not feel like this is enough, but it’s exactly what they need from you right now.
2. Highlight the good things
Compliment your kid! Notice when they do something right, or good, or thoughtful. The positive things you say to your teen should vastly outnumber the negative. You need to build your teen up.
Similarly, you don’t need to voice that you’re disappointed your kid doesn’t hang out with their friends as much, or that they quit the swim team. Chances are, they’re disappointed too! If they could click their heels three times and be all better, they probably would.
3. Guiding your teen towards professional help
Some teens willingly go to therapy, and others resist. You can’t make them want to go, and they aren’t likely to warm up to the idea very quickly. All you can do is open the door and leave it open.
Try asking them if they are willing to hear your suggestions, or asking them if they have any suggestions for how you can help them! You might be surprised with what they suggest. On the other hand, they might tell you to back off, and that’s ok too. You can respond in a non-provoking way by letting them know you understand their need for space, but you’re ready and willing to talk if they want to.
If they do come to you, make sure you are prepared. Do your research and select a couple of therapists that your teen can interview and choose from. Research various therapy options, but make sure your teen receives a full evaluation before picking one. Teens suffering from depression can also benefit greatly from prescribed medication. While therapy alone is often enough for mild to moderate cases, severe cases often require a combination of therapy and medication. It is highly recommended that you see a board-certified psychiatrist, rather than a general practitioner if medication is an avenue you are considering exploring.
Why the treatment might not be working:
If your teen is currently on a treatment plan that isn’t working, ask them about it. What don’t they like about therapy? What do they like about therapy? You can work with your teen to find a therapist who does more things that they like. However, if you are considering changing therapists make sure you discuss this with the current therapist before making any final decisions. Often the therapeutic relationship can be improved.
Remember, your teen has to want to get better. If your child isn’t committed to the process, it won’t work. Unfortunately, some people have to get worse before they can get better. Thankfully, you’re laying the groundwork for a strong relationship now and when your teen is ready they’ll know they can turn to you.
Take care of yourself!
You can’t pour from an empty cup. It can be completely emotionally and physically draining to care for someone with depression. Remember that you aren’t alone! Bolster yourself with support, and take the time you need to refresh yourself.