Tips On How to Help a Teenager with Anxiety and Depression
The Ministry of Health has today reported an alarming rise in HIV infections among youths aged 15-24. Of the many effects that the infection will have on these youths are anxiety and depression. As a mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, or even guardian, you will at one point have to deal with this effect. These tips are crucial in helping a teenager with anxiety and depression
1. Watch for the warning signs.
The warning signs are easy to see but, paradoxically, difficult to spot. Why? Because often, the signs can look a lot like just being a teen. Most adolescents, after all, experience mood swings and feel a little irritable. Many complain about being tired all the time.
But these can also be signs of depression. Look for those signs, especially if they’re paired with others, including social withdrawal; increased sensitivity to rejection or criticism; fatigue; unexplained physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches; changes in appetite; a retreat from extracurricular activities (or, sometimes, a sudden and alarming increase in them).
2. Keep an eye on your teen’s social media usage.
Scientists and researchers are increasingly seeing links between social media and mental health issues. Teens who engage with social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok a lot are more likely to be anxious or depressed.
Some of this seems to be tied to the type of content that teens engage with. Looking at Instagram photos filled with beautiful people can make teens feel ugly and less worthy by comparison. Seeing posts of a teen’s friends having a good time without them can be devastating.
But it’s also a matter of quantity, too. The first thing many teens do when they wake up is looking at their phones. It’s the last screen they engage with before going to bed, too. Many adolescents sleep with their phones-checking posts and IM’ing with friends at 2 a.m. This kind of engagement is incredibly distracting and can lead to a loss of sleep, both of which can impact a teen’s mental health.
3. Talk with your teen
Easier said than done, right? But if you can manage it, good communication is key. If your son or daughter feels comfortable talking with you during the middle school and high-school years, you’ll be able to keep tabs on his or her state of mind. If your teen expresses feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, talks about having trouble sleeping or having a hard time concentrating, or confesses to having thoughts of hurting himself or herself, those are critical signs that your child might be depressed.
Additionally, just those lines of communication can help stave off depression a bit. They can help your child feel less alone, and less isolated. Your teen can express some of the angst and despair she or he might feel, and it’s almost always healthy to let that stuff breathe.
Ask lots of questions about the school, friends, and your teen’s state of mind. It doesn’t hurt to ask even awkward questions: “Have you ever thought about hurting yourself?” A friend of mine, who used to lead a suicide prevention nonprofit for teens, says that these sorts of questions can open the door to important, critical, conversations.
Be honest and open with your teens.
Keep in mind, though, that even when your kids love you, value your opinion, and might secretly long for some help or even just a hug from you, they still might not talk about these deeply personal, painful issues. But keep at it. Ask lots of questions. Reveal little bits about yourself—the stuff that scares you or makes you sad (up to a point). If you show that you trust your kids enough to show the chinks in your own armor, your kids will be a little more likely to show you that same trust.
Finally, be available to talk as much as possible. Take walks. Encourage conversation on the way to school. Eat meals together without the TV on. Be there.
4. When in doubt, see a professional.
Take your child to a counselor or psychologist. Be proactive, even if it’s a little awkward. A mental health expert can give you far more tools to help your son or daughter through those really trying adolescent years. If your child needs help, get that help. And honestly, I’d always err on the safe side.
There’s no magic bullet, no miracle cure for depression. Some teens may come out of it in a matter of weeks. But for others, it can be an ongoing struggle. And parents, conditioned as we are to kiss our kids’ scratches and fix our kids’ problems, can sometimes feel helpless in the face of it. To watch your son or daughter struggle and suffer from this mental condition is incredibly difficult. And there are no easy answers for how to help a teenager with anxiety and depression.
But there is hope. You and your teen can find help. Depression is a hard thing to shake, but it can be treated—through counseling, medication, lifestyle changes, and yes, through savvy parenting. And, of course, you should encourage teens to engage with the ultimate hope: Jesus. Prayer can be incredibly helpful: To express gratitude for all the things that God’s given us can help remind us how much we must be thankful for. Place our troubles at God’s feet can help lessen the anxiety that often goes hand-in-hand with depression. To talk with God reminds us that we’re not alone—and that can be a key component to pushing through depression. Spending time in the Bible or spending time with friends at a youth group can be a help, too.