Having depression is like constantly having an unbearable weight on your shoulders. Ordinary everyday tasks—from making friends to going to school to having the enthusiasm to get along with your parents—all become remarkably more difficult. Even simply getting out of bed in the morning can feel like an impossibly overwhelming burden to bear.
Some studies show that up to 15% of teenagers suffer from depression each year. While the degrees to which they suffer can vary tremendously, clinical depression is something that no teenager ought to be forced to endure without help. Though nearly one in six teenagers are, in fact, at risk for suffering from depression related symptoms, there is certainly hope that things can get better and there are a number of people out there who have dedicated their entire lives to helping teens with this very condition.
If you believe that your teenager might be suffering from depression, it is important to be proactive about finding a solution. Their condition can certainly improve with the proper care and attention, but this improvement won’t occur on its own. The kind of treatment that will work best is naturally determined by the severity of your teen’s depression. While some depressed teenagers simply need an occasional session with a therapist, others may require much more in-depth residential care.
What is depression?
Depression (clinically referred to as major depressive disorder) is a condition that is characterized by prolonged periods of low-mood, consistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and an ongoing lack of motivation. Depression is a comprehensive state of being that effects individuals mentally, physically, and emotionally over long periods of time.
Depression is particularly common in teenagers—individuals who are experiencing some of the most formative and rapidly changing periods of their lives. Depression in teenagers can result in a tremendous amount of difficulties:
- Trouble doing well in school
- Difficulties making and keeping friends
- Unstable home life
- A lack of motivation that makes doing all things more difficult
Depression is uniquely distinct from sadness or other negative emotions. Being sad is normal and necessary. Sadness is a temporary condition that will eventually be overcome with time. Depression, on the other hand, is chronic and relentless. Teenagers who suffer from depression cannot be expected to simply just “be better”, or “get over it.” Depression is a real, debilitating, and lasting condition that needs to be taken seriously.
How can I help my teenager with depression?
It is not easy being a parent of a teenager who suffers from depression. You might want your child to feel better and offer your assistance to them in every way you can possibly think of, such as depression counseling or making healthy lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise. But even then, their sense of hopelessness wears on. Parents of teenagers quite frequently make the mistake of blaming themselves for what their teen is going through, but depression is something far more complex than a single “cause” could ever be.
If you believe that your teenager might be suffering from depression, do not blame yourself. Such blame is unwarranted, and will make neither you nor your teenager better off. What you can do, however, is act as a resource that can help in the recovery process.
- Love them unconditionally. As a parent, loving your teenager—not blaming, not dismissing, not ignoring—can only serve to help them. Individuals who are depressed often feel hopeless, lonely, and alienated from the rest of the world. Even if it seems your affections are unnoticed, they are helpful, and your unconditional love is something that will benefit them tremendously.
- Don’t try empathize, but sympathize. You may not be able to “understand” why your teenager is depressed because depression is not a condition that has a clear and unwavering cause. But you can feel for them, and recognize that they are going through something that is not easy for anyone.
- Guide your teen to the help they need. Being a parent is no easy task and—even with the best intentions—it can sometimes be impossible to give your teenager the exact kind of help they require. When depressive symptoms are chronic, it is important to reach out to professional resources that specialize in treating depressed teens. If your teen was suffering from a heart condition, you wouldn’t just hope your instinct was good enough to heal them, you would get them professional help. Depression is the exact same; sometimes the most complex conditions require the help of specialists.
How do I know when outpatient treatment simply isn’t enough?
Perhaps you have taken the necessary leap as a parent, and you have gotten your depressed teen to begin individual therapy sessions on a monthly or weekly basis. For some teens, these kinds of sessions are exactly what they need, and over time, they can begin to heal and learn to overcome an otherwise debilitating condition. But for other depressed teens, while individual sessions may be marginally helpful, they still require much more in order to fully recover and lead a rich and fulfilling life.
There are multiple signs to look for that indicate your teen is not just moderately depressed, but severely depressed:
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
- Total unwillingness to complete ordinary tasks—homework, attention to personal hygiene, getting up in the morning, etc.
- Simultaneously suffering from other conditions such as anxiety, personality disorders, PTSD, and others
- Trying to cope with their feelings of hopelessness with substance abuse
- Dramatically worsening symptoms over time
If your teen has been demonstrating any of these signs of severe depression, it is important to reach out and find professional help. If they have been seeing a professional for individual sessions, it might be a good idea to ask them for recommendations on residential treatment centers.
What are the benefits of residential treatment?
For teens who are severely depressed, residential depression treatment is the best option. These programs are fully integrative, and focus on healing above all else—rather than making the healing process only an occasional effort. There are numerous benefits to residential treatment programs:
- Accelerated rate of recovery
- Personalized, constant attention from professional caretakers
- Being able to recover alongside others who may be experiencing the same thing
- Safety and security
- Access to the physicians, psychologists, counselors, and resources they need
These programs can often cost much less than you might anticipate, and nearly all programs have financing options available that are willing to work around your specific situation. Even the most severe cases of depression are, in fact, quite treatable, but treatment requires the initiative to pursue a lasting solution.
What do I do if my teen is completely resistant to being checked into a residential program?
Ultimately, in order for your teenager to be able to actually recover, they are going to need to want to do it on their own terms. This can sometimes be difficult because many teens are highly resistant to the idea of checking into a residential treatment program. They might worry about falling behind in school, being stigmatized by their peers, or having to live in a place that is not their home.
While these are all valid concerns, they can be overcome with a loving sense of persistence. Many residential programs offer integrative help that can allow them to keep up in school, and even improve their grades over time. The certified professionals at these treatment centers know exactly what these teens’ primary concerns are and specifically know how to address them.
If your teen is resistant, then it might be good to start by taking small steps, rather than leaps. Don’t propose the idea of a residential treatment program all at once, rather, propose the idea of meeting with an advisor just once who can help them find a way to get better. These kinds of meetings take place in a non-judgmental, solution-driven setting with professionals who specifically know how to persuade teenagers to take the initiative to reclaim their life. Furthermore, many treatment centers offer the option of “trials” that can also allow teens to begin to experience residential treatment with a much smaller commitment.
Having a teenager with depression is not easy. Being a teenager with depression is not easy. But for both parents and teens alike, there is hope, and there are a number of accessible options within reach.
For contribution enquiries, please email us.