Teen depression... how you can help
Teen depression isn't about occasional mood swings and bouts of sadness which many adolescents experience during the growing years -- it's a serious problem that impacts every aspect of a teen's life. There are many misconceptions about teen depression, as a matter of fact, there are people who do not believe that teenagers can actually get depressed. On the other hand, medical professionals believe that depression in teens occurs far more often than we realize. According to CMHA statistics, 12% of girls and 5% of boys between the ages of 12 to 19 have experienced a major depressive episode and a staggering 3.2 million youngsters between the ages of 12 to 19 are at risk of developing depression. Suicide is a risk for all teenagers with depression and is among the leading causes of death in 15 to 24 year old Canadians.
So how can we as concerned parents, caregivers or trusted friends help teenagers during this difficult period? First of all, try to identify whether your teenager is truly suffering from depression. If you are unsure whether he/she is depressed or 'just being a teenager' consider how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how different your teen is acting from his or her usual self. Symptoms that last two weeks or longer may signal depression. Among the tell-tale signs are sadness or hopelessness, irritability, anger or hostility, frequent crying, loss of interest in activities and friends, changes in eating and sleeping habits, lack of motivation and difficulty focusing, acting-out/risky behaviours, use of alcohol and illegal substances, feeling of worthlessness, talking about suicide.
If your teen is depressed, talk to him or her about your concerns. This may not be easy because parent-teenage relations are often strained during this period. However, even teenagers who are not responsive, appreciate that you care - even if they don't show it. Ask whether they have an explanation for this change of behaviour. Among causes of depression are pressures at school, death of a loved one, break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, gender issues, body image, bullying, physical and sexual abuse etc.,
Whether you have identified the cause of depression or not, accept that your teenager needs professional help. Educate yourself about teenage depression. Take your teenager for a physical exam to rule out medical causes of depression. Ask your family physician for a referral to a doctor who specializes in children and adolescents. Discuss treatment options but don't be too quick to medicate. There are a number of treatment options including one-on-one talk therapy or group or family therapy. And if medication is prescribed, read up on the risks of teenage antidepressant use.
Last but not least, take care of yourself and the rest of the family. You may be focusing all your energy and attention on your depressed child while neglecting your needs and the needs of other members of the family. You need to stay healthy in order to help your depressed teen. Let go of guilt and blame... it's not helpful to blame yourself or your child for this condition and reach out for support to friends, family, support groups or a therapist of your own.
For further information, check out one of the featured books on teen depression from the library. There is also an excellent database devoted specifically to teen health issues. You can access this database from home with a valid library card.