Parenting a teen struggling with their own mental health can feel lonely, isolating, and confusing. It can be difficult to understand their needs, set boundaries, and protect your own wellness. Depression is a medical condition, and this is one of the most important things to continually remember when supporting a teen diagnosed with depression. Although depression is not an illness that comes with a fever and easily distinguishable symptoms, it is an illness that is not chosen by your teenager and needs medical attention just like the flu or strep throat would require.
Over the next few weeks, KS Services will be sharing a blog series that will provide psychoeducation to help you as you navigate through caregiving for your teen (or anyone!) with mental health concerns. As always, if you need further support or would like to schedule a free consultation, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Depression is not a choice.
In order to support your teen fully, it is important to keep a few things in mind. Understanding these key points will help when addressing particular behaviors and attitudes. First, we must work to understand that depression is not a choice. Like most illnesses, the exact cause of depression cannot easily be traced back to one particular trigger. Although sometimes we know exactly how our child was exposed to the flu (Aunt Sue came to the Christmas party sick), most often we are not sure of the exact moment of exposure. Similarly, although sometimes the trigger for depressive symptoms can be traced to a traumatic event or loss, most often there are multiple reasons that cannot be pinpointed.
Regardless of the trigger, depression is not a choice but an illness. Just as you would not tell your child with the flu to simply get up and try a little harder to feel better because we know they are not well, neither can we tell our child to just try harder to feel better when they are experiencing depressive symptoms. There will be moments during your teen’s illness when they simply cannot get out of bed, and we must be willing to accept that. However, just like with the flu, there may be moments when a few behaviors will bring comfort (think getting some soup or sitting up to watch a favorite movie).
As a parent, assessing the type of relief and support your teen needs at any given moment can be overwhelming. To ease that burden, work with your teen’s therapist to teach your teen to advocate for their needs. Have your teen learn how to communicate when they need a moment to relax and when they need more hands-on support. Once your teen uses their skills to advocate - support them. If you are having difficulty understanding what your teen needs, be honest with them. Express your feelings and then be willing to listen to their response. Be sure to let your teen share without interruption or filling in the sentences for them. If you're unsure what they mean, ask for clarification. These active listening skills will ensure your teen feels validated and heard. Keep in mind that just as a bowl of soup does not cure the flu, going out for a walk does not cure depression. While there are benefits to exercise, eating well-balanced meals, and going out with friends, these behaviors are not cures for depression. Just as you would not force your child out of bed to eat a full meal when they have a fever, consider that your child may not be ready for these things when experiencing heightened depressive symptoms.
Words to Say:
That sounds painful. You are not alone. I am here to support you.
I imagine feeling this way is exhausting. You are going through a lot right now.
I’m here for you.
Thank you for sharing with me how difficult this time is.
Can you tell me more about how you are feeling?
Depression is not your fault.
Words to Avoid:
Just try a little harder.
It could be worse.
Let it go.
Everyone feels like that sometimes.
If you or a loved one have any questions or would like a free 15-minute consultation, please do not hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org
Licensed Resident in Counseling