By Kyle Caldwell, M.Ed, LPCC-S
As children move into their adolescent years, a lot of things can change for them in terms of new challenges and stressors. For many reasons mental health concerns can arise at this stage of life. And since topics related to this are so vast, I would like to focus on the topic of depression—what types of things parents should look out for, and what they can do to help.
Signs to look for
To start off, let’s look at some of the behavioral markers that are typical for adolescents. Depression will likely affect their energy level. You may find your child appearing to be more tired, sleeping excessively, and appearing to be overall sluggish. You may also notice your child have changes in their appetite. Adolescents struggling with depression will often begin isolating themselves from those around them. Of course, spending time in their room is not all that uncommon at this age. However, if you notice a significant change in terms of previous behavior, that may be something to watch out for. Irritability may also be a part of an adolescent’s experience of depression. Self-harm could also be a sign that your teenager is struggling with depression. This will typically come in the form of cutting on the forearms, but sometimes other locations that are more hidden such as the thighs.
Symptoms to look out for
In addition to the more outward signs that adolescents may present with, there are other things that you may want to listen for. You may hear your child express themes of hopelessness towards the future or lose interest in activities that they used to enjoy. You might notice them struggling with motivation, concentration, and setting goals, which could all be associated with academic decline. A most important thing to watch out for are thoughts of suicide. Adolescents who struggle with depression do not always experience thoughts of suicide, but they certainly can. If you are a parent and suspect that you child is struggling in this way, do not hesitate to talk to them about it. Safety is key!
What you can do to help
As a parent there are actually a lot of ways you can help, and they don’t have to be complicated. I would recommend that you ensure you child has a strong supportive network around them. This will be anything from family, friends, teachers, etc. It’s important for them to know that they have people in their life to share things with. You should be making time for them, asking questions, and actively listening to them. Encouraging them to stay engaged in activities is also very important. For adolescents this may look like after-school sports, clubs, or even jobs. These help to prevent them from ruminating on negative thoughts, which increases depressive symptoms. Lastly, sometimes symptoms can become severe enough to warrant professional help. Therapy may be necessary, as well as a psychiatrist for possible medication.