Yesterday, I wrote a little bit about my personal struggle with depression, and I included what you should NOT do when having to parent a depressed child. Today, I’m going to end things on a lighter note, and talk a little bit about things that have helped me in the past. Most of them are pretty simple, and parents can help a lot with them. Again, I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. So, without further ado, here are some things you SHOULD DO if you have a teen with depression:
-Seek professional and medical help for your child: I know I talked about this in the last post, but I can’t stress it enough. They will be able to give you an official diagnosis and help you treat it. Doctors and psychologists KNOW what they are doing, and will be able to help you figure out the best thing to do for your child.
-Get the information: Educate yourself on what depression is. Go to your doctor, ask questions, get pamphlets. Read websites on clinical depression, and the stories of people who are struggling with it. Remember, depression is not simply a sad mood that one can snap out of. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It affects everyone a little differently. Learning how it affects your kid will help you know how to deal with it.
-Ask how they’re feeling, periodically: Having a good relationship with your child is key. Talking with them can be really cheap therapy. Sometimes, all it takes is my mom to ask “How are you?” And we end up talking for hours. At the end, I feel like a weight has been lifted from me. Allowing them to vent in a private setting (don’t be afraid of tears!) is cathartic and really helps.
-Be there for them. Ask if you can help with anything. See if anything is stressing them out. School? Relationships? Work? Pinpointing stressors and removing them (or at least working through them together) is key.
-Motivate them and compliment them: A big part of depression is feeling like you’re worthless and inadequate. Another part is not feeling like there’s a point to anything. Sometimes all it takes to lift the spirits is a friendly comment and some encouragement. Tell them their hair looks nice, tell them how proud you are that they accomplished something (even if it’s something simple like getting a good grade on a test, or helping you cook). Help them set goals and check up with them on their progress. Having something to work for and look forward to is a huge way to be lifted out of the dumps.
-Provide a healthy environment: Nothing makes me more depressed than living in a messy, dark room. Dirty clothes everywhere? Dishes piling up? Bathroom is basically a crime scene? No thanks, I’ll just go back to sleep. And on top of that, they have to go to school, do work, and all they’re eating is greasy fast food? BAD combination. Keep the house clean, help them with their room, open the windows, and make sure they’re eating a healthy, balanced diet.
-Get them out of the house: The absolute WORST thing you can do to a depressed person is leave them alone in their room all day with their thoughts. Provide a consistent routine for them. Kick them out. Make them hang out with their friends. Take them for a walk in the park, go shopping, go for a drive to look at scenery, go to the movies, go bowling or to a batting cage, go to a play or sports game, or just do some yardwork in your garden together. Anything that can distract them and show them how beautiful the world is is good. Physical activity like walking or exercise also increases endorphins (the happy chemicals!)
-Give them space: This is a little contradictory to what I just said, but even though going out and being active is key to fighting depression, sometimes they WILL need time to themselves. Especially if they’re an introvert. It’s totally normal for teens to be a little withdrawn and keep more to themselves. Sometimes, you just wanna play video games for 5 hours. That’s what being a teenager is about: wasting time and not having to care about it. Plus, if you try to smother them too much, they may be less excited about opening up to you. Let them live their life.
-Find a balance: This is difficult, but you need to know when to meddle and when to back off. Use your intuition, talk with your child, and do what you feel is best.
-Realize there’s no way to be perfect: Even if they are taking their meds every day, seeing a therapist regularly, engaged in active, healthy habits, and regaining control of their life, there are still going to be bad days. A bad day or a bad week doesn’t mean your child has failed, and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a parent. It sucks, but that’s how depression is. They can be doing really well and then suddenly slump again for no reason. It happens. Learn to roll with the punches, and keep on truckin’.