Parents, how many times has your teenage daughter or son suffered a loss — breaking up with a boyfriend, getting cut from the football team, failing a test, or having a fallout with their BFF — and then moped around the house for a week? Or maybe they took it out on their younger sibling, mouthed off to you, found catharsis in playing loud music, eaten their feelings in the form of a gallon of ice cream, or hid in their room crying into their pillow?
Teenagers are notoriously moody, and even though it might sometimes feel like they’re being difficult on purpose just to annoy you, they really can’t help it. Remember that they’re at the mercy of their raging, rollercoaster hormones. And if they had any say in the matter, it’s doubtful that they’d choose to be this way.
There’s a big difference, however, between normal teen emotions and depression in teenagers. If your son or daughter has depression, treat it seriously, just as you would if they were diagnosed with leukemia, diabetes, or Crohn’s disease. Depression is a disease, and as such, it requires treatment. Take a look at some of the options for treating teenage depression.
- Try Talk Therapy
Although some people still consider counseling or psychotherapy, also commonly known as “talk therapy,” to be an indulgent waste of time, there is plenty of evidence — both anecdotal and scientific — that it works. It’s a great place to start for anyone, but particularly for teenagers, as it doesn’t involve the use of antidepressant drugs.
Parents can be wary about sending the message that when something is wrong, you can pop a pill for it, especially now that the country is in the throes of an opioid epidemic. Talk therapy really doesn’t carry a lot of risks, so it’s a safe jumping-off point.
- CBT Could Help
One particular type of therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, is now being considered by many mental health professionals to be the “gold standard” of psychotherapeutic modalities. CBT involves exploring how cognition and behavior intersect, and asks the patient to listen to and understand their own negative self-talk. The therapist then provides the patient with guidance for reshaping their thoughts, thereby changing patterns of behavior.
- Encourage Exercise
The connections between physical and mental health are stronger than you might realize. Getting adequate physical exercise is crucial to one’s emotional well-being. In fact, one study conducted by researchers at Harvard found that running for 15 minutes or walking for an hour each day reduced the risk of depression by a whopping 26%! With odds like those, why wouldn’t you want to get your teen up and moving?
Make family fitness a priority. If necessary, make your teenager’s allotted screen time or smartphone usage dependent on whether or not they have exercised that day. And for heaven’s sake, practice what you preach; get out there for a daily jog or yoga class yourself instead of retreating into your phone or laptop.
- Make Mindfulness Meditation a Habit
Many forms of complementary medicine have been practiced for centuries, but science is only beginning to catch up and see the benefits of treatments like acupuncture, hypnosis, bodywork, homeopathy, and mindfulness meditation. If your daughter or son is open to these practices, they are well worth a try.
Mindfulness m, in particular, has gotten a lot of good press lately, especially for mental health issues like depression and anxiety. It can be practiced anywhere, does not require expensive equipment, and while more is better, any amount is beneficial.
There are plenty of guided meditations on YouTube, or if your child prefers reading about a topic, check out your local library or Amazon for some great primers on mindfulness. Of course, there’s also an app for that — try Headspace or Stop, Breathe, Think.
- Medication Might Be the Answer
Many parents consider antidepressants to be a last resort for teen depression treatment, and that’s fine — but don’t rule it out altogether. For some patients with major depressive disorder, medication is necessary, just as insulin is necessary for type 1 diabetes.
Naturally, you’ll want to work with a psychologist who specializes in medication management for teenagers. He or she will likely start off with very low doses of an established, widely effective medication such as Prozac, Zoloft, or Celexa. Make sure you learn about the potential side effects, and take the meds as directed for best results.
Understand that antidepressants can take a while — up to a month or six weeks — to take full effect; your teenager needs to take them for that long in order to give them a fair shake. It can also be tricky to settle on the most effective variety and dose since individuals’ reactions to different medications are difficult to anticipate. With patience and some trial and error, however, you will find the right protocol to help your teen cope with his or her depression.
There Is Hope
Teenage depression might seem like a serious issue, and it should be taken seriously. However, know that it is possible not only to manage depression but also to prevent it from interfering with your teen’s success and happiness. There is hope; by working as a family and giving your child the emotional and practical support they need, you will get through this trial — together.