Posted: August 24, 2021
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Wondering if your teen daughter is struggling with depression? Teenage depression and suicidal thoughts are very serious. As a parent, you want to know how to recognize the symptoms and how to help. In this “Parent’s Guide” licensed professional counselor September Trent will help you identify the symptoms of depression and give you practical direction on what to do.
Kathryn just turned sixteen and is a sophomore in high school. While she was nervous about driving, she got her driver’s license to have her independence. She is a dedicated athlete and plays volleyball and softball. Kathryn also does very well in school, but feels pressure to take honors classes and excel in them. Her parents would describe Kathryn as well behaved and an all around great person.
As Kathryn’s sophomore year continued, her parents and friends started to notice differences about Kathryn. At first it was isolation; Kathryn would stay in her room at night and have very little contact with friends. Next, her parents began to notice their daughter was irritable: it did not take much to set her off. Kathryn’s performance in school and sports began to suffer. She also began to make comments about how no one would miss her if she was gone. Her parents did not know what was going on, so they took Kathryn to see her doctor and she was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Other symptoms Kathryn had reported to her doctor were difficulty sleeping, change in appetite, difficulty concentrating, and sadness for most days. Her parents had no idea she was struggling this way; she hadn’t seemed sad to them.
As a parent, it may seem difficult to know if your daughter is depressed or just moody. The teenage years can be marked by difficult moods, as you may know. What should a parent look for as warning signs their teen is in trouble (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, pp. 160-161)?
In teens, this can appear as irritability rather than sadness. Whether it is irritability or sadness, it has to persist for two weeks. This means your daughter is experiencing symptoms more days than not in a two week period. The symptoms last for most of the day on the days your daughter identifies feeling depressed.
Loss of Pleasure
This refers to when a person no longer shows interest in activities or things once enjoyed. For example, someone who spend many happy hours playing softball may drop out of the sport and have nothing to do with it. In Kathryn’s case, her parents saw a loss of motivation, which often points to a loss of enjoyment or fulfillment. What used to be very satisfying to the teen is no longer a source of pleasure.
Changes in Eating and Sleeping
A teen who experiences depression may have an increase or decrease in appetite. You may see weight gain or weight loss in your child. She may also sleep more than usual or less than usual. Teenagers normally sleep a lot (8-10 hours), but a teen with depression could be sleeping be sleeping 12+ hours most nights. Or, you may witness your daughter sleeping an average amount at night and taking many naps during the day. On the reverse side, the teenager may describe only sleeping one or two hours at night due to difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Thoughts of Suicide
These include fleeting thoughts about not wanting to be alive and wondering if everyone would be better off without the teen,to more serious thoughts such as thinking through possible methods of taking her life. If your daughter shares thoughts of suicide with you, take action right away by contacting emergency services. If she shares that she has an active plan for her suicide, you need to seek medical attention immediately.
Loss of Energy
You may notice even though your daughter sleeps 10 to 12 hours per night, she makes comments about being tired or unable to complete tasks. She may also find it difficult to participate in sports or complete homework assignments.
Your teen may feel insignificant. Included with this can be feelings of inappropriate guilt and shame. She may question the purpose of her life or her importance to peers. Guilt may appear in her blaming herself for something she had no control of and shame may lead to her seeing herself as defective when compared to others.
Your daughter may complain of trying to sit and concentrate on homework or at school, but reporting that she cannot focus or that her mind is thinking of many other things.
Psychomotor Agitation (Anxious Restlessness)
This could take many forms including pacing, picking at hands, easily annoyed, or having a short fuse for anger.
Being right in the midst of this challenging situation can make it difficult to observe things objectively. I highly encourage you not to try to diagnose your adolescent, but to seek professional advice about your child’s mental health. Your child doesn’t need you to have all the answers about what she’s experiencing, but she does need you as her advocate and safe place on this journey.
Therapy is most often where parents start to get help for their depressed teenager. It is always helpful to participate in counseling when experiencing depression. While medication will help with the biological component, therapy will help with the psychological component. Therapy provides a safe environment for your daughter to discuss thoughts, feelings, and situations that led to the depression or perpetuate it. Most likely, family therapy will be included in your child’s treatment plan for depression. You are a vital part of the treatment process for working through your child’s depression. If you feel your teenager has not made significant progress in therapy alone, then it may be time to talk with a medical professional about medication.
Medication might be a scary option to think about with your daughter. The best place to start when considering medication is to talk with your daughter’s primary care physician. Your teenager’s physician will do a screening for depression and decide whether medication is an option for your daughter. Also, it is not uncommon for a person with depression to have to try a few different kinds of antidepressant medications to find the one that works best for her. Your primary care physician may refer you to a counselor. Research shows that medication in combination with therapy is the most effective form of treatment for depression.
If you feel a conversation with your daughter is difficult, you are not alone. Raising a teenager is a challenging task, especially in the realm of communication. Engaging in a conversation with a teenage girl can be frustrating! You are not a horrible parent if you struggle in communicating with your daughter. The following are a few helpful tips:
Develop An Atmosphere Of Openness
An atmosphere of openness involves encouraging conversations between yourself and your children. Through your verbal and body language, communicate that what your children say and think matters to you. Your teen’s thoughts and emotions are like an extension of her. While some of what your child shares may be strange and is likely to contain things you don’t agree with, remember: How you interact with the thoughts and emotions your teen is trusting you with will determine if your child feels heard and therefore, will continue to share things with you and think of you as an advocate rather than an adversary.
Listen And Try To Understand Your Adolescent
When approaching your teenager for a conversation, your goal should be to just simply listen. Most of the time, your child wants you to listen rather than fix the situation. Try reflecting back what your daughter states. Think about what it would feel like to be in her shoes. Focus on trying to understand where she is coming from. Of course, you are the parent, so there are situations where you have to intervene for safety or consequences but make sure there are plenty of conversations that aren’t characterized by intervention. Instead, these should be marked by a relaxed mutual sharing and enjoyment of one another.
Listen Without Judgment
With the attitude of simply listening, your stance should be one of not seeking to judge. More specifically, think of yourself as being curious. You need more information because you do not have enough information to make a judgment at this point in time. Adopting this attitude will make the atmosphere more conducive to safety and openness.
Tell Your Teenager You Care
You need to do this verbally and non-verbally. Oftentimes our children pick up on negative tone of voice or body language. Make sure you are telling your child you care and showing this through how you approach her. For example, in conversation, face her, make eye contact, nod your head, reflect back what you hear, and occasionally, set up a special time and a place where it is just the two of you. This shows your child how much you value them and that making the time available is a priority to you.
If you or someone you know is struggling or thinks they may be struggling with depression, contact My Counselor Online. We can help!