Diagnosing the Problem
Parents often ask, "What differentiates serious mental health concerns like anxiety and depression from the typical emotional ups and downs of being an adolescent?"
Being emotional is sort of a rite of passage for teenagers. With all of the changes that they are going through, it is understandable that they may be moody at times. They are experiencing new and different feelings and beginning to see life from a more realistic perspective and this can be scary. Many teens struggle with low self-esteem, so it can be difficult to tell if the problem is serious and needs more attention than normal.
The best approach for teen anxiety and depression is to know what is going on with your teenager. Don't be afraid to talk to them. Discussing concerns with your teen is a much more effective approach than searching for evidence on your own. It is important to build trust with your teenager because it is the foundation of being able to have open communication. Before reading your child's diary or going through personal things, try sitting down and having a conversation about your concerns.
Here is a list of things to look out for:
- extreme weight loss/ weight gain
- unusual crying spells
- loss of interest in activities-especially those that your teen once enjoyed
- withdrawal from friends or social activities
- changes in sleep routine-sleeping too much or too little
- significant behavior changes in school
- constantly feeling nervous and/or worrying
- Thoughts or statements about suicide*
- self mutilation- in the form of cutting, scratching, skin burning etc*
If your teenager is experiencing many of these symptoms, you may want to consider seeking a professional mental health provider to help assess the situation.
*If you are aware that your teen is participating in self-injurious behavior, or has expressed thoughts about suicide, this requires immediate medical/mental health attention. If the incident warrants emergency medical attention, go to your local emergency room or call 911 (in the US).
The Best Approach for Teen Anxiety and Depression
If your teen is experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, it is not a bad idea to have them assessed by a licensed mental health provider. A therapist can help determine whether the symptoms are situational, or due to a more serious condition of major depressive disorder. The therapist can also provide you with a list of specific tools and interventions that can help you be supportive as your teen is going through this tough time. Here is a list of some of the most common strategies and best approaches for dealing with teen anxiety and depression:
Build a coping skill toolbox – When your teen is experiencing depressive or anxious symptoms, it is important that they have a resource center of coping skills that they can use to help refocus. The best way to create a coping skill toolbox is to sit down with your teen and discuss things that make him/her feel better. Some common examples include taking a hot bubble bath, going for a run, listening to music, watching a certain movie, talking on the phone, getting out of the house with friends, journaling and making crafts. Help your teen identify as many coping skills as possible. Make sure that you write these down so that when your teen is a having a hard time you can help them remember to practice some of the coping skills. You can get creative and have your teen decorate an old shoe box and designate it as a coping skill toolbox. They can then draw out a card with a coping skill on it as needed.
Take a class with your teen– If you cannot think of anything that you and your teen would enjoy doing together try something new and different. Try taking an exercise class together like yoga or kickboxing. Exercise helps alleviate depressive symptoms and can become a coping skill that your teen can use when he/she is feeling down. If an exercise class doesn't sound interesting, try finding a local art class. If you live near a college campus or community college, check the listings for fun classes that you can take with your teen. Getting your teen involved in the process of picking a class will also make them feel special and more connected to the experience.
I wrote this article based on my experience working with children and teens suffering from mental illness.