It’s normal for kids to feel “down” and to be in bad moods from time to time. Depression is different in that it is a type of mood disorder where a child experiences prolonged negative feelings. It impacts a child’s ability to function normally.
With a topic as serious as depression, one of the keys to helping your child comes with preemptive and consistent open communication about the topic. Feelings of sadness are often too easily dismissed or spun in a positive direction.
1 in 5 American adults suffer from some kind of mental illness (https://www.nami.org/mhstats). Mental health concerns, in some ways, are similar to physical sickness. Depression is like other illnesses, like the flu or an ear infection. It’s not our fault when we get sick, but there are important steps we can take to get better. Here are some practical tips:
1. Listen more than you talk. Ask a lot of questions. When you show a genuine interest in how their feeling and provide a safe space for them to process, you’ll communicate that you truly care for them.
2. Provide a safe space. Kids have really big emotions, and we need to treat those emotions seriously. Even if we don’t understand or agree with how they came to experience an emotion, that emotion is very real them. Pay close attention to their words and actions before defaulting to calling it “immaturity” or a personality flaw.
3. Watch for warning signs. Being sad, discouraged, or irritable for a long period of time (weeks or months). Not enjoying things that used to make them happy. Feeling of worthlessness/guilt. Lack of energy. Sleeping too much during the day and not enough at night. Weight change. Not caring about the future.
4. Encourage coping mechanisms. Like other illnesses, depression can be cured. Meditation can help teens get a “big-picture” view of their emotions. Physical activity releases endorphins (“feel good” chemicals in the brain). Reframing stress as opportunities to learn; failure is a necessity for growth. Get plenty of sleep and maintain healthy nutrition.
5. Get help. Try to help calm their fears and connect with them as much as you can (even if it seems like they don’t want/need you there). Don’t get angry or blame them for what’s going on, but rather seek professional help. If you’re concerned, seek medical attention from a specialist. It’s never “too early” to seek advice from medical professionals. Therapists are available for evaluation and treatment.
1. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
2. The toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in their national network. These centers provide 24-hour crisis counseling and mental health referrals.
3. US Dept. of Health & Human Services: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
4. Child Mind Institute’s webpage on depression
5. Erika’s Lighthouse (not-for-profit dedicated to educating and raising awareness for adolescent depression)