As I have been writing about issues affecting teen girls lately, I keep seeing that the issues often have a common side effect. Depression.
Sexualisation leads to depression. Growing up in a dysfunctional family and family breakdown breeds depression. And when a young girl is trapped in domestic violence, depression is very understandable. The list keeps continuing: teen pregnancy, isolation at school, relationships, friendships, drugs, social media. The issues that teenagers need to navigate are complex and if they are not lovingly guided there is a great danger of experiencing depression and other mental issues.
A study by the Murdoch Research Institute showed that females aged between 15-29 are almost twice as likely to experience depression compared to males in the same age bracket. This is particularly sobering when you consider the implications of teenage depression. A depressed teen will have more trouble at school and maintaining a job. They will get sick more often. There are higher rates of pregnancy and STD for teenage girls with depression. 30% of teens with depression will develop substance abuse. Teenagers with depression are 12 times more likely to commit suicide, particularly if the depression is untreated, and sadly only 33% of depressed teens receive help.
If you suspect your teen, or a teenager you know is depressed, here are some ideas to help them. (These strategies may not work for severe depression. Professional guidance will be required for severe clinical depression.)
1. Get Help
See a doctor. Your teenager qualify for a mental health plan so you can work towards getting better. Severe depression may require medication. Medicating for mental illness should be viewed in a similar way to medicating any other illness.
2. Identify Coping Skills
Help your teen to recognise those things that help lift their mood when they are feeling down. Exercising, listening to music, counting until feeling calm, getting outdoors are all examples of coping strategies to counter negative feelings when depressed.
3. Maintain Rules and Boundaries
While sensitivity needs to be applied to help a teenager through a time of depression, make it clear that rules still apply. It might be difficult for your teen to get their homework done when they are depressed, but if you still require them to reach your standard and expectations, you are assisting them to develop emotional resilience and to rise above their problems. Let your child develop strategies to work around their illness rather than using their illness to develop strategies to avoid work.
4. Keep Them Busy
Avoid allowing your child to pull their head over the covers and remain in bed all day. Responsibilities actually help people to rise above depression. Simple things like getting dressed and showering are a good start. Don’t be harsh, but be firm. Set simple tasks at first and increase the challenge as your child responds. Consider getting your teenager to help with projects outside the home like in a soup kitchen. Considering other’s needs can help breed purpose and help them to focus on other’s needs rather than their own.
Depression is not inevitable for all teenagers. There are many things that can parents can initiate to prevent their child becoming depressed and luckily for those of us with young children, we can start putting these safeguards in place right now. Of course there are no guarantees, but it’s certainly worth trying.
1. Discourage Talking Negatively
Sometimes life is difficult and everyone can feel discouraged, but it is important that children learn to recognise that their expectations of themselves and their image of themselves is realistic, but not hyper-critical. For instance, if a child says, “I’m hopeless at Math”, teach them to re-phrase this to, “I don’t enjoy Math”. Your child has then expressed their frustration, but is no longer shouldering blame or projecting failure. Likewise instead of saying “I always look awful and no one likes me” teach your child to express emotion without making blanket statements. “I don’t feel pretty today, so I’m glad you and Dad still love me.” is a better statement. It acknowledges feelings, but also finds a positive. It’s not always easy for children teenagers, particularly those with depression problems to phrase things positively, but the more they are gently guided to do so, gradually their thinking will become more positive also.
2. Teach the Child the Benefits of Failure
It doesn’t feel nice to fail, however some of life’s most useful lessons are learned after experiencing failure. Teach your child to appreciate challenges and not to fear failure. Giving your child the confidence that they can pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again after failure teaches them emotional resilience which makes it hard for depression to take control.
3. Talk to Your Child
By taking an interest in your child and talking regularly with your child from a young age, trust is established. When you take the time to listen to a child, you can understand their perspectives and their thought processes. It will also give you a more natural way to coach them through life’s hardships without preaching or lecturing. Building relationship makes you more approachable and accessible if there is ever a crisis that your child is walking through.
Depression is not an easy illness to navigate, it needs to be treated with sensitivity and concern. There also needs to be a degree of firmness to help children understand that they can arise above challenges rather than using them as an excuse. I have been writing this series on teenage girl issues that affect our society while my friend Letitia cycles 40km in 40 days. She is on her last week now, if you’d like to motivate her aching body to finish strong, head over to City Women and make a donation. The money will directly help girls in our city. I was talking to her on Sunday, she’s definitely having to push through the pain now!
Have you ever seen a child experiencing depression? Do you have further advice of how to help kids cope when depressed or prevention strategies?