Updated: Sep 24
There are alarming statistics that have been surfacing around depression in children and teenagers over the past year. Since the start of the pandemic, the number of children and teenagers struggling with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts has risen. But even before the pandemic, teenage suicides had been increasing. This is concerning and scary news for parents.
It leaves you wondering what you can do to protect your children as they make their way through the transition from childhood to being healthy adults — physically and mentally. It's important to note there are many different reasons why a teen may be struggling with depression. It could be from a mental health disorder, difficult situation in life, or they could be struggling without knowing why.
While there are some things that you can try that can help your child with depression, it's important to know that therapy can play a crucial role in helping your child overcome it. Licensed therapists are knowledgeable in different strategies that can help your child learn to cope with and overcome depression. Do not hesitate to reach out for help.
Keeping that in mind, here are some other things that can help your child avoid or overcome depression.
1. Make sure they have a strong relationship with a parent
Having a strong parent relationship has been found to be one of the most helpful things for children and teenagers struggling with depression. While teens are starting to want their independence it continues to be important for them to have healthy boundaries in place. These won't be the same boundaries they had as small children, but it still helps protect them and keep them safe — even if they don't like it at the moment.
It's also important for them to feel they can come to you to talk about what's going on in their life and what challenges they're facing. These transitional years can be tough on teens and knowing they have a safe place to turn can help make a big difference.
Make sure you listen to your child when they come to you. It can be tempting to jump into lecturing them or trying to correct them, but if that's how you always respond, they may stop coming to you. Be a listening ear.
If you struggle with knowing how to create this relationship with your child, it can help to talk to a therapist who can teach you strategies that can help.
If you're reading this and you aren't the parent of the child or teen that's struggling, that's OK. Not all children and teens naturally have a parent in their life that creates this safe place for them. Other adults can help create this space like a coach, teacher, other family members, or a guardian.
2. Help them get enough sleep
Research has also found some connection between the amount of sleep that a teenager gets and major depressive disorder. When a teen gets 8-10 hours of sleep each night it's believed that they have a reduced risk of depression.
There are some things you can do to encourage your teen to get enough rest each night:
Keep electronics out of the bedroom
Help them create and maintain a regular sleep schedule
Encourage them to complete homework assignments and projects earlier in the day
Limit their caffeine consumption, especially later in the day
Talk to a doctor if you believe they have a sleep disorder
Teach them deep breathing and relaxation techniques that can help them fall asleep
3. Acknowledge their feelings
You may think the things that your child is stressed or anxious about don't really matter, but it's a real concern to them. Even if you don't understand why they feel a certain way, it doesn't matter. It's how they feel, so make sure you acknowledge and validate it.
Trying to tell them that a situation isn't "that bad" may communicate to your teen that you don't understand or you don't care.
4. Help them connect with their peers
"Friends" on social media is not the same as connecting in person. While there are some continued challenges to getting your teen together with others depending on how you feel due to the pandemic, look for things that you can do. If you and your teen are comfortable with it, make sure they connect in person with their friends. If you're not comfortable, help them connect through virtual calls with friends so they're still getting some face-to-face time.
If your child has struggled to make friends, look for opportunities to help them connect with kids they have things in common with. You can also have them meet with a therapist who can help them learn strategies to connect better with others.
5. Get them moving
Your child doesn't need to be a star athlete, but exercise and physical activity can play an important role in mental health. It's recommended that they have at least an hour of physical activity every single day. Help your teen find activities that they enjoy. It could be dancing, running, playing a sport, skateboarding, paddleboarding, swimming, or anything else that gets them up and moving.
Physical activity boosts endorphins in their brains which can help boost their moods.
6. Help them find hobbies they enjoy
Having hobbies is part of self-care. But there is a difference between self-care and escapism. Watching tv, playing video games, and scrolling through social media isn't the same as self-care activities. Help your child find things they enjoy that will help their mental health.
7. Help them maintain a balanced diet
Teens aren't always known for being the best eaters. Your teen may have a busy schedule which means it might be easier to hit the drive-thru for dinner a few nights a week, but a balanced diet is important for physical and mental health. Encourage them to make healthy food choices when they can. Make it easy for them by keeping healthy choices in the house.
8. Help them get professional help
If your child or teen is struggling with depression, or you think they might be, encourage them to talk to a professional. Schedule the appointment and help them take the necessary steps.
Parenting can be tough and it's hard when you know your child is struggling. You can set a great example for your child by talking to a therapist yourself as well. You can attend family sessions together to help your child feel more comfortable.
Depression can be overwhelming for anyone. Watching your child experience depression can be just as overwhelming. Don't hesitate to reach out for help for both you and your child.