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Depression has become the leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents worldwide, which in most cases go undetected and untreated, increasing the risk of suicide.

Mental Health in Teens

While teen mental health was already declining before COVID-19, the pandemic created conditions that exacerbated feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

Disruptions to routines, missed milestones, extended school disruptions, prolonged social isolation, fear, and anxiety over health and finances have undoubtedly taken a cumulative toll on the mental well-being of youth. 

Extraordinary stress and disruption as experienced during the pandemic can be very damaging for a child’s psyche that typically thrives on routine and predictability.

One study found that older children were impacted more severely than younger ones, likely because of puberty, hormonal changes, and lack of social interaction. Girls were more prone to depression and anxiety than boys, which aligns with studies from before the pandemic.

Depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders are among the most common mental health concerns in youth.

Depressive symptoms include:

  • sadness
  • loss of interest in activities that used to bring joy
  • disturbed sleep
  • changes in appetite
  • lack of concentration
  • irritability
  • low energy or little motivation to do anything
  • risky or harmful behavior
  • substance abuse
  • feeling hopeless for weeks on end

These symptoms can lead to suicide ideation if not properly addressed.

As July is Mental Illness Awareness Month, parents need to become more aware of behavioral changes in their children to provide them with the right support.

How Can Parents Support Adolescent Mental Health?

Here’s what you can do as a parent:

1. Be there for your child

Show empathy and understanding – even if they don’t want to talk to you or do much of anything. Depression makes even doing the smallest of tasks difficult. Validate their emotions, but not their unhealthy behavior. 

Ask questions about their mood in a non-threatening way. Don’t be judgmental or try to solve their problems, just listen to what they are saying and let them know that you are there for them, while showing compassion for what they’re going through.

2. Focus on the positive

Compliment them on the positive things they do – even if it’s just going to school, setting the dinner table, or helping with the dishes. Try not to belabor their negative points but acknowledge that they’re trying. They don’t want to feel this way. If they could snap out of it, they would, but depression doesn’t work that way. 

Showing love and appreciation for the little things they do well, will strengthen your relationship.

3. Encourage self-care

While it may be difficult for your teen to look after themselves while they’re feeling depressed, it’s vitally important. These self-care habits can include:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Eating healthy meals
  • Sleeping enough
  • Participating in sports and wholesome hobbies that make them feel good about themselves
  • Limiting screen time and social media use
  • Practicing gratitude by keeping a journal
  • Encouraging social interaction
  • Setting achievable goals 

These are all things they can do that will improve their mood and self-esteem.

4. Set boundaries

Healthy boundaries are essential for youth to form positive relationships with others. 

mental health

Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

Setting these limits creates physical and emotional safety for your teen, so they know what is acceptable and what is not. Even when they are depressed, rules should be respected.

5. Get them the help they need

Discuss going to a therapist if their mood doesn’t improve. If they don’t want to go, ask in what way you can help. If they tell you to back off, don’t retaliate with anger. It might just be their way of telling you they need space. Accept their response and give them some more time to think about it. 

If they don’t come back to you, ask your GP to recommend a few therapists. Then put forward the suggested therapists to your teen and ask them to make a choice. It’s important to make them feel involved in the process, which sets the stage for effective therapy.

Which therapy works for teens?

Several kinds of therapy might be helpful.

These include interpersonal therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy, which all play a role in the recovery process. 

However, a thorough assessment should be done by a psychiatrist to recommend the most appropriate treatment for your child.

Teenagers with depression may also benefit from medication, such as anti-depressants, but the best results are usually obtained when combining medicine with psychotherapy (talking with a therapist). That said, your teen has to be committed to therapy, therefore finding the right therapist that your child can connect with is key.

Bottom line

While challenging behavior tends to be the norm for teenagers, parents should be on the lookout for signs of depression, as early detection and treatment are crucial.

References

Liu, S. R., Davis, E. P., Palma, A. M., Sandman, C. A., & Glynn, L. M. (2022). The acute and persisting impact of COVID-19 on trajectories of adolescent depression: Sex differences and social connectedness. Journal of affective disorders299, 246–255. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2021.11.030

MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Monkey Business Images/shuttertsock
Abdurahmaan Kenny

Abdurahmaan Kenny

Abdurahmaan Kenny is a mental Health Portfolio Manager for Pharma Dynamics. He is also an experienced brand manager with a demonstrated history of working in the pharmaceutical industry in various therapeutic areas such as CVS, CNS, FHC, PAIN, and OTC. He has successfully launched multiple brands and is skilled in brand building, analytical skills, public speaking, event management, market research, and teamwork. He is a strong product management professional with a PG.Dip focused in Marketing/Marketing Management and B.Sc. majoring in chemistry and human physiology from the University of Cape Town.

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