Teen Mental Health: What to Do When Depression Hits
Depression is more than just feeling sad or blue or a bad mood that lasts a few days. Depression hangs on and affects emotions, thoughts, movement and behavior. If your kid is depressed, it can be very scary. The good news is it can be treated. If you're concerned about your kid's sadness, you can try some of the following suggestions. If your child seems depressed or says he feels like he's fallen into a dark hole and he can't get out, seek professional help.
Encourage exercise: Exercise affects the brain chemicals that have a lot to do with depression. Exercise releases chemicals called endorphins that give you a natural high. Endorphins lift your mood, making you feel more energized, and may even help you sleep more soundly. The more often your kids exercise, the better they'll feel.
Give your teen a break: Taking time to relax is a way to clear your mind, recharge your batteries and restore your health. Make your child take a break from activities and rest for 15 to 30 minutes every few hours during the day. Suggest taking a nap, soaking in the tub, reading for pleasure, calling a friend, petting the cat or dog, listening to some favorite relaxing music (no sad songs!), daydreaming or doing a relaxation exercise.
Help your teen have some fun: Laughing makes people feel better and happier. It's a good way to temporarily relieve some of the symptoms of depression and to keep spirits up during recovery. Spend time with your kid doing something fun, or encourage her to do something fun with a friend. Alternatively, recommend that she read a funny book or watch her favorite funny movie or TV show.
Feed teens good food: Nutritious foods give the body and mind the fuel they need to stay healthy and strong. Drinking lots of water each day is also important. Water quenches thirst, hydrates the body and flushes out the system. Have your kid start the day with a healthy breakfast and provide a multivitamin to supplement his diet. Ensure he avoids caffeine. And as always, discourage alcohol or other drug use. Keep a stash of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds in the house for snacking. They contain a natural antidepressant called tryptophan.
Talk about it: Depression causes painful feelings like sadness, anger and hopelessness. Kids may withdraw from people who care about them because they think they won't understand what they're going through. In fact, one of the best ways to deal with painful emotions and start healing is to talk to someone trusted. Encourage your kid to seek out someone to talk to—you, a teacher, an older relative. Talking helps put things into perspective. Your teen will see that he's not as alone as he may think.
Stick with a treatment plan: If your child is in therapy, on medication or both, sticking with the treatment plan is the single most important thing she can do to get better and stay well. Make a commitment to help your child follow her treatment plan. Keep in touch with her mental health professional, who can help you adjust the plan as needed.
Feed your teen's spirit: When a child is depressed, a place inside feels empty. This place holds his personal spirit. It needs attention, too. Encourage your child to try writing his thoughts and feelings in a journal, playing a musical instrument, singing, writing a poem, walking in a park, volunteering, collecting things he loves, painting a picture, setting a goal or saying a prayer. Or help him come up with other ways to use his creativity and boost his self-esteem.