Living with teenagers can be challenging at the best of times, but if your son or daughter is displaying signs of depression, it can be difficult to know how best to act. Parents will naturally hope that the outward symptoms are nothing more than the ritual hormonal swings that teens are well-known for, but the fact is that, left unsupported, a young person suffering from depression can enter a dangerous downward spiral from which escape is difficult.
If you suspect that your son or daughter is depressed, it is important to voice your concerns immediately. It may be that the symptoms that ring alarm bells in your mind are only signs of a personal crisis your child is experiencing. This being the case, even if depression is not the cause, your support can be instrumental in resolving their issues.
Bear in mind that your son or daughter may be reticent about opening up when you explain why you are concerned. This is, to some degree, to be expected, but denial can also be a powerful weapon in a depressed teen’s arsenal, so don’t allow your instinct to be quashed if your worries haven’t gone away.
Talking with a depressed teen
Engaging with a depressed teenager needs time, patience and skill. The following tips may be useful in helping you to approach conversations sensitively:
• Recognise that your child’s feelings are genuine, even if they seem unfounded or irrational. Acknowledge the way they feel, without being seen to be scornful, or else you run the risk of losing their trust. Above all, avoid unhelpful comments such as ‘Just snap out of it’. The fact is they can’t.
• Expect it to take time before your child feels able to share his or her feelings with you. Being shut out is not a sign of an absence of trust in the relationship: it’s simply an automatic means of self-defence that your teen may resort to, at least initially. Make it clear that you’re willing to listen, when the time is right.
• As your teenage child is growing up, they’ll be preparing to form a new relationship with you as an equal, so this is probably not the time for superior lectures about all the errors of their ways. If your child is prepared to talk, take that as a positive and listen without passing judgement. When the time is right, they’ll ask for your valued opinion about how to resolve their problems.
Depression can be damaging in many ways to a young person who has little life experience, so as well as offering a listening ear, seek professional help at the earliest opportunity so that you can work together to move forward.