Having a child who suffers from depression feels terrifying, helpless, and frustrating, all at once. Your teenage son just wants to stay in bed all day, and has no interest in the things that she used to love. Your 14-year old daughter tells you how worthless she is. It breaks your heart, and nothing that you say can console her or convince her that she’s not. Her grades have suffered, and she has begun to withdraw from her friends. You can see that she feels terrible, and you feel bad for wanting to scream “snap out of it!”, because there’s no logical reason for her to feel this way. Maybe she has even expressed that she would be better off dead, sending you into a panic. She wasn’t like this before.
As frightening as it can be to see your child suffer through depression, help is available, and one of the first steps toward healing is developing an understanding of what they’re going through. Some common symptoms of depression in children include:
- Consistent depressed mood, the vast majority of the time
- Feelings of worthlessness
- A loss of interest in the things that they used to enjoy
- Irritability, hostility, easily frustrated
- Frequent crying, or tearfulness
- Inability to concentrate
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (Barely sleeping, or excessive sleeping)
- Chronic fatigue
- Restlessness or agitation
- A significant increase or decrease in appetite.
- A significant increase or decrease in weight
- Suicidal thoughts, or communicating that things would be “easier” or “better” if they weren’t around
A Word of Advice
In my experience with depression treatment for teens, parents are frequently skeptical of their child’s depression, much more so than other mental health disorders. Often times, they’re not sure whether or not their children are faking it. If you that sounds like you, please be very careful. This is not something that you want to be wrong about. If you are unsure if your child is depressed, or if they are just seeking attention, I encourage you to take them to see a qualified mental health professional for evaluation.
We all get sad from time to time, but depression is different. Your child can’t just “snap out of it” or “man up”. Depression is a nearly constant burden that they bear, and it can alienate them from their friends and family. Scans have shown that those who suffer from depression experience neurological changes in their brains, and they are most certainly not making conscious decisions to continue in their misery, simply to seek attention. Depression is real, and it is dangerous.
Depression Treatment for Teens: Climbing Out of the Hole
Depression is different than most other mental health disorders, because the very nature of it leaves the person who is suffering from it feeling unmotivated and helpless. Many teens with depression have to be dragged to therapy, and the first component of their recovery is getting them on board with treatment. It is the job of both you as the parent, and me as the therapist, to reach down into that hole with our hands extended, ready to pull them out…fully knowing that they might smack our hand away. Effective depression treatment for teens requires persistence and thick skin.
I use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help them out of that hole. The basic idea behind CBT is that negative and/or inaccurate thoughts lead to negative feelings and behaviors, creating a cycle that feeds into itself. In the case of depression, thoughts like “I’m worthless”, “what’s the point”, or “things would be better if I was gone” breed depressed feelings. Those depressed feelings cause your teen to further withdraw and alienate friends and family, which then creates more feelings of worthlessness and helplessness. Restructuring those thoughts is the essence of CBT. As a thoroughly studied, evidenced based treatment, CBT has proven to be a widely successful depression treatment for teens.
Research has shown that CBT combined with medication is often times the most effective depression treatment for teens. As a result, I often work concurrently with a psychiatrist to maximize the effectiveness of therapy. This approach helps to attack the depression on both cognitive and medical levels, and serves as another hand to help your teen out of that hole.
My teen is resistant to the idea of therapy.
This is very common, especially with depression. As I noted earlier, it’s part of the very nature of the disorder, and I see this all of the time. That being said, your teen is looking for relief. They may not believe that therapy is going to provide it, but they don’t want to feel this way. Simply getting them to the office is a victory, and a step in the right direction. Breaking through that resistance is a fundamental part of depression treatment for teens, and I have years of experience in doing exactly that.
How do I know this isn’t just teenage angst?
Teenage angst is something that many of us go through, and grow out of as our adolescence ends. So how do you know if your teen is truly depressed, or if it’s just a phase that they’re going through?
Hopelessness and withdrawal from friends and activities that your teen used to enjoy are two of the bigger warning signs that it is actually depression rather than normal teen angst. Moodiness might be frustrating for you as a parent, but it is a relatively normal part of being a teenager. Withdrawing from friends, or expressing hopelessness about the present or future is not.
As a parent, it feels like a fine line between those two things. As I said before, this is not something that you want to be wrong about, so I encourage you to seek help if you aren’t sure. Often times, mom and dad are the LAST two people that a teenager wants to open up to about their feelings, so having a second pair of trained eyes on them can help to answer a lot of the questions that you’re having. A big part of depression treatment for teens is getting them to express their true emotions.
Between my time at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, the UC-Davis Medical Center, and in my own private practice, I have helped many teens to overcome their depression. I encourage you to call me at (424) 262-2014 for a free, 15 minute consultation so we can discussion what your teen is going through, and to sign up for my Depression Newsletter to learn more about this issue that so many teens face. Together we can pull your teen out of that hole that they’re in.