Depression & Anxiety in Teens: How to recognize it and what to do

Families often have questions, concerns, and confusion about mental health issues. We read news stories that rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide are on the rise, yet, we hear very little in the popular media about what these things are and how we can help our kids. This article is intended to shed some light on these topics and offer some ideas on how to help.

“We read news stories that rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide are on the rise, yet, we hear very little in the popular media about what these things are and how we can help our kids.”

Depression: signs and symptoms.

Depression is not the teen’s fault. It can occur as a result of many factors, including trauma, increased stress with reduced coping, pervasive grief, and heredity. There is a difference between feeling sad and being depressed. Depression is a more constant mental state, however, mood and symptoms can fluctuate. In teens, we may notice the following:

· Consistent sadness, tearfulness

· Decreased interest in activities

· Changes in academics, social relationships

· Isolation, Agitation, Anger, Outbursts

· Low self-esteem, guilt, self-persecution, chronic negativity

· Sleep problems (too much, too little)

· Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or vague physical complaints

The best response is to unconditionally accept and love

The best response we can have when we notice these symptoms is to unconditionally accept and love the adolescent. They will then be more willing to have an open and honest conversation. Allow the teen to talk freely, and be non-judgmental. Check in with your child daily and acknowledge both their struggles and strengths. Explore treatment options together and find a therapist who your child feels is a good fit.

Anxiety: signs and symptoms.

Anxiety is extremely common among all of us. When we feel overwhelming stress and an inability to manage that stress, we may begin to worry constantly that things will not go right. For adults, this happens at work, home, and in our social situations. It’s the same for kids, however, kids are less equipped and have less experience in how to cope with stressful situations. Therefore, in our kids, the stress compounds, and add to that social media, a drive for perfection in academics and sports, and many other facets of growing up (hormones, relationships), and our kids get very anxious. This is common and normal.

Be concerned when anxiety impacts ability to function daily

You should be concerned, however, when your child’s stress tips over into the kind of anxiety that impacts their ability to function daily. When your child has a constant fear of what others think, what their grades are, how many likes they have on Instagram, whether they will make the team, and if these fears become so pervasive they cannot do anything else, it’s time to talk to them about anxiety and get help. When anxiety becomes severe, kids might begin to have panic attacks. A panic attack is when the child’s brain gets “stuck” in “fight or flight” and they begin to feel the walls close in on them, they might have trouble breathing, they might have a severe emotional reaction (fits of crying, hyperactivity, or complete withdrawal).

Steps for helping

If you notice these things in your child, the first step is to sit down with your child and take time to talk. Don’t be afraid and do not minimize their feelings. Validate and explore how your child is feeling and help them feel secure to discuss this out loud. Provide them a safe space to do so, by telling them that emotional health should be treated the same same as physical health, as we are made up of one big system. Second, if you suspect your child is depressed or anxious, take them to see a mental health counselor/therapist for a full assessment. There are resources at the end of this article. Third, participate in your child’s therapy, healing, and coping. Learn what your child is supposed to do to help themselves. Practice coping skills with them, make them feel like your entire family is a team in their recovery! This will help the child feel as if this is normal, just like if they broke their arm during soccer practice. They need your practical and emotional support for recovery.

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