So you’ve noticed that your teenager has been more moody than usual. Do you dismiss it as normal teen behavior, or should you be more concerned? Read on for help with figuring this out.
As noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article found here, depression in teens is on the rise. With all the pressures of increased academic competition, FOMO (fear of missing out) brought on by Instagram and other social media, and the increasing feelings of fear and vulnerability in the wake of the recent school shootings, this is not surprising. While depressed girls are more likely to cry or withdraw, boys tend to act out more, misbehave, throw things, or try to self medicate with drugs or alcohol. Parents, pay special attention if your teen’s moodiness spans across several areas of his or her life–social, academic, extracurricular–and nothing seems to make him or her feel better. This may be a sign that there is more going on than just teenage moodiness.
As we think about how to help our children cope, we need to acknowledge and move past any issues we may have about seeking mental health treatment. Black Americans are 20 percent more likely to suffer from mental health issues than the general population, according to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Yet only 25 percent are likely to seek help, compared to 40 percent of whites. Some black people see therapy as a “white thing,” says Monica A. Coleman, Ph.D., a professor of constructive theology and African-American religions at the Claremont School of Theology who has written two books about her experiences with depression. White people can afford to be human, be vulnerable, seek mental health care; black people can’t. But holding on to these attitudes can block our ability to help our children when they truly need it.
Do you think your child is suffering from depression? The Wall St. Journal article offers some helpful steps to take if you think this may be the case:
Be curious. Ask gentle questions and listen without being critical, says Jessica Feinberg, a licensed clinical social worker and program director of the Adolescent Acute Residential Treatment Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. “Validate your child’s feelings,” she says. “This does not mean you have to agree with them. It’s enough to say ‘I hear you. Let’s talk.’”
Ask others. Check with the school, coaches, family and friends to see if they also notice a change.
Talk to the pediatrician. The doctor can rule out physical causes, such as a thyroid problem or a side-effect of medicine, and make a recommendation to a mental-health professional if needed. Share your family history, since depression, like other mental illnesses, tends to track in families.
Find a therapist. Make sure the therapist is licensed and has experience with adolescents. Look for someone who practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a short-term, evidence-based approach that helps identify inaccurate or negative thinking in order to respond to situations more effectively. Ask the school or your friends for recommendations, and let your teen have a part in the decision. Jay-Z has recently been speaking publicly about how much he has been helped by therapy, and how he recommends it for everyone. Tell your child this if he or she balks at the concept of talking with someone; maybe knowing that someone like Jay-Z could do it will encourage them to try it.
Consider a psychiatrist. In the case of a mental-health disorder, research shows a mix of therapy and medication often works best, says Joseph Penn, a psychiatrist and chair of the American Psychiatric Association Council on Children, Adolescents and Their Families. “If you don’t treat depression, one of the major risk factors, while rare, is death from suicide,” he says.
Have a plan for college. If your teen suffers from depression, find a therapist near the school and ask your child to sign the college’s confidentiality waiver, so the school can legally contact you if your child has a health crisis.
Get your own therapist. This shouldn’t be the same person your child sees. You can help your child by helping yourself. Take care of your physical health, as well.
Act immediately if your child talks about self-harm. “A lot of times it is really hard to figure out if a kid is suicidal or crying wolf,” Dr. Penn says. “But it has to be taken seriously regardless.”
These suggestions are a helpful way forward. Don’t be afraid to use them!!
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