Prevalence rates of teen depression and anxiety have risen significantly in recent years. While the causes of the rise remains speculative, many parents are left unsure how to help their struggling teen.
First of all, know the signs of teen depression. If you are concerned that your teen may be struggling, try talking to them about your concerns at a time when you are both available and calm. Be open, curious about your teen’s experience, and share your concern from a place of love. Getting your teen to open up about their inner world can feel like pulling teeth, I get it. Your teen may not want to talk with you about their feelings, but be sure they are connected to some safe adult who they can share with - perhaps a professional therapist, teacher, youth leader, mentor, family member, etc.
As I work with teens struggling with depression and anxiety, I’ve come across a few common pitfalls that well meaning parents tend to fall into. Here are a few responses to avoid that are not helpful:
- “Be positive!” Many teens I work with report feeling pressured to put on a smiling face, to be positive, to have a good attitude, etc. when around their parents in an effort to overcome their depression. Depression is not a choice nor a lack of resiliency. Treatment may involve examining thought patterns, but this best left to a professional. Teens I work with that feel pressured to put on a smiling face and be positive often end up hiding their depression from family, not healing it.
- “Snap out of it!” - Some parents will try to help their teen with depression by telling them to simply stop feeling that way. This may come across in subtle interactions, frustration from the parents about symptoms, threatening “If you don’t…. then…”, or even the teen getting in trouble for their depression. Remember that depression is not a choice. If it was, most people would choose to feel differently in a heartbeat.
- “This will pass.” - While this is true, depressive episodes do not last forever, it can feel dismissive or minimizing to your teen’s experience in the moment. I’ve noticed that many parents seem to be more comfortable with the idea of situational or circumstantial depression rather than the possibility of chemical or enduring depression. Let your professional team work with your teen to determine the root of depression and instead aim to understand what it feels like for your child right now.
- Ignoring it - Depression can be deadly if untreated and typically will need treatment to get better. If you see the signs or have concerns, please do not ignore it. Talk with your child.
Here’s what many of my teen clients report they do want from their parents:
- Understanding - First and foremost, my clients talk about wanting their parents to trust their experience and try to understand where they are coming from, even if their parent doesn’t get it completely. Avoid responding with “I see, but…” and instead say things like “Thanks for sharing, can you tell me more about what that’s like for you?”
- Responsiveness - If your child comes to you expressing their concern about depression, anxiety, or another mental health concern, work with them to get help promptly. It takes a great deal of courage to have that conversation, and acting promptly to get your teen help conveys that you hear them, care for them, and are taking them seriously.
- Ask how you can support them - Rather than assuming you know how to help or what your child needs, ask what you can do to support their healing and what you have been doing that may be unhelpful. Be receptive and open hearted to feedback. Some teens may want you to ask how they’re doing, others want to have space, some may want you to help them notice when they are spiraling, others feel annoyed by that. Negotiate together how you can honor their needs and still be involved in their healing.
If you are concerned about your teen and want to get them in for treatment, or need some coaching about how to care for them well, reach out today to see if we can help.