Susan’s 13-year-old son Joe was rushed to the emergency department after being found unconscious in his bedroom with a slit in his wrist. The good-looking young teenager didn’t let anyone know that he was struggling with chronic depression, a result of his obesity and short stature. Like Joe, there are many teenagers in the United States who succumb to depression, almost 5,000 of them aged 15-24. Unfortunately, their condition remains undiagnosed because of the stigma associated with mental disorders. Lack of knowledge about mental problems makes parents, friends and caregivers incapable of detecting the symptoms and providing the necessary help to the children.
The mental health of the American youth is in a devastating state, as evident by the latest report released by the Mental Health America (MHA), a community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of people living with mental illness. According to the report, the rate of depression among youth has escalated in the past five years. Some 50 percent of those screened, between the age group of 11-17 years, thought of self-harm and suicide throughout the week. Some 76 percent of the youth, corresponding to 1.7 million, didn’t receive treatment for their severe depressive condition. Before the tragedy strikes, parents and caregivers can intervene and institute a firm support system.
Some of the ways by which parents can help teens stay away from depression are:
- Fostering effective communication: One should not wait for the right time or for the teens to grow up to have a conversation with them about mental health. It is important to encourage them to talk about their lives, peer pressures, their urge to try any substance or alcohol and their insecurities about their body or self-image. Asking them questions like how are they doing in academics and if bad grades bother them a lot, are they dating anyone, and whom are they spending time with after school, will give an idea about what’s going inside the child’s mind. The teen might not be very receptive initially but gradually, he or she would open up. Parents should not judge or reprimand them as it will discourage the children from sharing experiences.
- Encouraging social connection: Avoiding human connection and living in a shell can be detrimental to the mental health development of a teen. Parents should encourage teens to spend some quality time with their friends, extended family and neighbors as social connections can help a person gain knowledge, shift focus from the self to others and foster good friendships. Teens who are loners are more susceptible to depression.
Teen years are marked by hormonal changes and brain development which can impact their decision-making abilities. They constantly need reassurance that they are on the right path. Volunteering and doing charity are other ways of helping them understand that there are other people who might have more serious problems, but have decided to live.
- Prioritizing physical health: Teens must be encouraged to participate in some form of sport on a regular basis. If they sit idle or adopt a sedentary lifestyle, they will gain weight, which can give rise to depressive symptoms. Regular physical exercise helps relax the mind and body, and boost the feel-good hormones. Parents should discourage their children from eating processed and junk food and instead, should encourage them to focus on nourishing foods with essential minerals and vitamins. In addition, they must be encouraged to spend less time on their mobile phones and sleep for at least eight to 10 hours without fail.
Reaching for professional support
Helping a teenager make healthy choices can be a stepping stone for preventing any mental health disorders. If a teenager is already struggling with depression, it is best to seek professional support for timely recovery. Parents should reassure them that with proper care, they will be alright.