At any given time, one out of every five teenagers is experiencing major depression. If you are a parent to an adolescent or teenager, you are likely familiar with the moodiness inherent to this age group. Mood swings are common, as teens are experiencing a vast array of hormonal changes within a short time span. Yet, some parents attribute early signs of depression to this moodiness, and thus miss the opportunity to help support, and even prevent their child from developing depression. If your child is showing early signs of depression, or you simply want to be proactive, there are ways to support your teenager that could have a big impact and even prevent the development of depression. Here are some tips on how to prevent the onset of depression in your teen or child’s life.
1. Promote Overall Health
Various aspects of a teenager’s life can have an impact on their susceptibility to depression. Thus, it is important to notice how your teen is eating, sleeping, exercising, and socializing. While you cannot control your teen’s behavior, you can model a healthy lifestyle. This means following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, moving your body everyday, and interacting with friends and family on a regular basis. You can also encourage your child to follow such habits by keeping the fridge and pantry stocked with nutritious foods, encouraging a nighttime routine and a curfew/bedtime, and even inviting your teen to exercise with you.
Also, if your teenager has a smart phone/computer/tablet/etc., it may be advisable to limit their screen time, as numerous studies show a strong correlation between screen time and depression. Moderating your own time behind a screen is also a way to help encourage healthy habits around technology for your teen.
2. Provide safety and security
An integral part of the healthy development in adolescents and teenagers comes from having a safe and stable home base. Be accessible to your teen, spend one-on-one time together and let them know you are available to talk anytime.
Healthy communication can help build trust and enhance the relationship between you and your child. This means not only talking about the day-to-day things, but also more serious topics like drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, and mental health. Talk with your child about bullying. Being the victim of bullying is a major cause of mental health problems.
3. Educate Yourself
To help prevent your teenager from developing depression, you first have to know about depression. Learn about risk factors, warning signs, symptoms, and treatment options. It may also be helpful (if possible) to look into your family history in regards to depression and overall mental health. By educating yourself about depression and how it could affect your teen, you are not only increasing the chances of catching your teenager’s depression early, but also talk to them about depression and its potential impact.
4. Help promote a healthy support system
If you think your teen might be struggling with depression, or is showing early signs of depression, it is vital to begin helping them develop a healthy support system. First, and most importantly, is identifying mental health services for teenagers in your community. Schedule an assessment for your child, and accompany them to the appointment. With your teenager’s permission (preferably, but not required if they are under 18 years of age), share what you have noticed regarding your child’s behavior, mood, sleeping/eating patterns, etc. with the mental health professional conducting the assessment. Once enrolled in mental health services, a treatment plan will be created for your teen.
While many young people are open to receiving therapy and other mental health services, some are not. Thus, they may need some gentle pushing on your part. While you cannot force your child to follow through with the treatment plan, you can provide reassurance and encouragement. If prescribed medication, it should be your child’s responsibility to take it on a regular basis. Yet, you can still do things to help keep them on track with the medication, such as picking it up from the pharmacy, suggesting they put a daily reminder in their phone, etc.
Although mental health services are an integral part of a healthy support system for any young person, it is important for them to have other means of socializing. Encourage your teen to spend time with friends, engage in extracurricular activities, and pursue interests and hobbies. It may also be pertinent to help your teen develop a list of healthy support people they feel comfortable reaching out to during tough time.
How to Help Prevent Depression (Friends)
If you are a friend to someone that is showing early signs of depression, or just seems to be experiencing increased sadness and/or low moods, there are ways you can support them and possibly even prevent them from developing depression.
1. Open up
If you think your friend may be struggling with depression, it is OK to ask. If you have ever suffered from depression or other mental health problems, it could be helpful for you to share your personal experience, as this can aid in normalizing what your friend is going through.
2. Be wary of keeping secrets
Although one of the major pillars of a strong friendship is trust, when it comes to depression, there are exceptions. If you have a friend who discloses they are having suicidal thoughts or participating in self-harm, it is vital you someone, regardless of if they asked you to keep this secret. Both self-harm and suicidal thoughts should be taken extremely seriously (even if you believe it is a “cry for attention”) are serious. Tell an adult, talk to a parent (yours or your friends), or a school psychologist as soon as possible.
3. Engage in healthy activities with your friend
While many young people are experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and sex in high school, there are plenty of other ways to socialize with friends and peers. Healthy activities are an important part of overall mental health so get outdoors with your friend by taking a walk or a hike; do something creative like painting or drawing; listen to music.
4. Know who to call in an emergency
If you think a friend may be depressed, or they have expressed suicidal thoughts, it is imperative you know what to do in an emergency situation. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. It is also OK to call 911 if you feel your friend is being unsafe or might hurt themselves or someone else.
If you have a child suffering from major depressive disorder and are in need of urgent psychological care, residential treatment can be a good option. For information about depression treatment programs, or to confidentially speak to our admissions staff, contact Polaris Teen Center at 1-844-836-0222.