Teenagers: society often labels them as hormonal/moody, irresponsible, and addicted to technology. While some say these stereotypes exist for a reason, what happens if a teen is experiencing anxiety or depression? Do these labels change? How can you even tell?
For parents of teens, it can be incredibly difficult to recognize whether your teen’s behavior is “normal” or a sign of an underlying mental health issue, especially since many symptoms tend to be similar.
Take, for instance, common symptoms of anxiety and depression:
changes in sleep patterns
Now for comparison, let’s look at common developmental milestones and indicators of healthy teen development, particularly in terms of establishing autonomy and independence:
increased concern regarding self-image
wanting to spend more time with friends
increased need for sleep
When you read these, it may not appear that the two examples are similar. However, behaviorally, they are commonly expressed in the same ways; especially from a parent’s point of view.
So, at what point does a teen’s behavior go from developmentally appropriate to something more serious? The chart below provides a few (though, not all) common examples to keep in mind.
*Please note that this chart is not a replacement for professional consultation, and any concerns should be brought up with your child’s mental health care provider or primary care provider. If your teen has told you that they are depressed or if their behavior is concerning, professional attention is warranted and should be sought out as soon as possible.
If you are concerned that your teen may be experiencing depression, it is imperative to seek professional treatment as soon as possible. In addition to professional care, there are a few things you can do as a parent to help:
Build empathy by putting yourself in their shoes.
While you may be frustrated that your teen is irritable, remember that even day-to-day tasks require significant energy that they might not have. If they are exhausted, it’s understandable that they may want to just retreat to their room.
Recognize that if they could snap their fingers and feel better, they would.
Validate their emotions, NOT the behavior.
Try saying, “It seems as though you’ve been really down lately. Is that true?” Make it clear that you want to try and understand what’s troubling them without trying to problem solve.
Ask questions calmly, gently, and without becoming emotional. Listen calmly and without judgment.
Accentuate the Positive
Notice your teen when they are doing something positive, and let them know verbally and directly that you see the effort they are putting in.
Don’t weigh these behaviors on what they “should” be doing. We all like to be noticed for our efforts, even if they are expected.
Help Them Get Treatment
Some teens will want help, and some won’t. This is normal and expected when asserting independence.
If they don’t want help:
Respect their space and respond with something like, “I’ll give you more space, and know that I’m here for you if you ever want to talk or hear my suggestions.”
If the do want help:
Be prepared. Do your research. Find 2 or 3 therapists they can interview and let them know that they can choose who they feel most comfortable with. Finding a good fit is very important, and letting your teen choose gives them ownership over their treatment, setting the stage for it to be more effective overall.
Take Care of Yourself
It can be emotionally exhausting to be a parent of someone struggling with depression.
Make time for yourself and ask others for support.
Remember the airplane mask rule: put your mask on first before you assist others. If you can’t breathe, then there is little, if anything, you can do to help. Same goes for emotions. Make sure there is enough in your tank to give 🙂