Teen Depression and the Holidays. The Struggle is Real.

Teen depression grew by 37 percent over the last decade.

Self-Harm Increasing Among Adolescent Girls.” – HealthDay News
Smartphones May Increase Risk of Depression Among Teens.” – TIME Magazine
Teen Depression On Rise In US” – Chicago Tribune
Rise in teen suicide, social media coincide; is there link?” – Chicago (AP)

These are just a few of the headlines in the news today and frankly they feel daunting, especially if you are the parent of a teen that suffers with depression. Too often the signs go unnoticed or worse ignored because we don’t know what to do to help. As parents, we struggle with questions like, “Where do I start? How can I open discussions to help teens understand and process their feelings? When do I need to seek help from a professional?”

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 3 million U.S. teens aged 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year and as the holidays fast approach, these feelings often worsen.

The holiday season can be difficult for teens with the onslaught of social media posts, school parties, and other social gatherings. Feelings of depression can cause teens to avoid social interactions, which can be especially difficult during the holidays. Unfortunately, withdrawing from holiday festivities often worsen their feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression.

Teens are learning to explore and find their way through their emotions and thoughts. Creating opportunities for honest disclosures and discussion is critical.

These 3 tips for identifying teen depression and improving parent-teen communication can help you get started.

One: Identify the struggle.

Start by noticing teen behaviors and watching for red flags (those warning signs that may point to depression):

  • Excessive moodiness and tears
  • Anger and irritability
  • Excessive sensitivity to criticism
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Feelings of worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Changes in eating patterns that result in dramatic weight gain or loss
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Social isolation or abandonment of peer group
  • Isolation from family members

Two: Educate yourself.

Understand outside stressors affecting teen depression – social media, cyberbullying, academic pressures, substance use, poverty, fatigue, body image, violence, and family issues or loss. Resources like Teen Speak are a must-have to identify issues and navigate discussions that may be difficult to approach otherwise.

Three: Start the conversation.

Communication is key. Open the door to discussions with teens about depression as well as outside stresors that may be affecting their mood. Talk with them…not at them. Dr. Jennifer Salerno, has written Teen Speak: A how-to guide for real talks with teens about sex, drugs and other risky behaviors, to provide parents and other adults with practical communication strategies to help foster strong relationships with the teens in their lives and to support often difficult conversations about risk.

The teen years are not easy for parents or teens, feelings of depression can make it even more challenging. Building strong relationships through effective communication can provide teens with the support they need to navigate the holiday season and beyond.

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