Helping Depressed Teen

How to Help If Your Teen Is Depressed

You need not walk alone

By June Yong | 29 August, 2018

James, 14, was experiencing signs of anxiety. He had always been performing well at school, but since the news of his parents’ divorce, his grades have slipped as he could not focus in class and had difficulty sleeping. He was feeling lost and lonely, and did not know who to confide in or how to make sense of what was happening. He felt like his world was falling apart.

James’ story is unfortunately an increasingly common one. The number of depressed youths has been on the rise. According to an article on Channel NewsAsia, depression is the most common mental illness in Singapore, and may affect up to 18 per cent of youths here. (“Under pressure at home and in school, youths battle depression”, 12 May 2018)

Furthermore, suicide is the leading cause of death for those aged 10-29, as stated on the Samaritans of Singapore’s website.

How do we help our struggling teens, and what are the reasons behind this increase?

The causes of depression

The stress factors behind depression are usually varied and complex in nature. It may stem from family problems, relationship problems or academic pressure. Chronic health conditions or learning disabilities could also be underlying causes.

Whatever the driving force, troubled youths often experience a strong need for acceptance and support – a need which for many, may not be adequately met at home.

Coping with difficult emotions

One of the most practical things we can encourage our youths to do is to vent their pent-up emotions in healthy ways.

Some ways to vent include hitting a punching bag, writing or journaling about their anger or hurt, doing art and crafts, or singing to their favourite song at the top of their voices.

Physical activity also helps. Jacquelyn Peh, an associate counsellor with Focus on the Family, explains, “Any form of exercise that encourages movement can help youths combat their depressive feelings, whether it’s walking the dog, dancing in the shower or skateboarding.

“Participating in any physical activity can help improve their mood as endorphins, or ‘feel good’ hormones, are released during exercise into the brain. Exercise also increases body temperature, which may produce a feeling of calmness, and help take their mind off their troubles.”

Can professionals help?

Professional therapists and counsellors can help by providing a non-judgmental and safe space to share their emotions, and feel heard and empathised with.

Because youths are dealing with unresolved hurts, disappointments or relational setbacks, which can have a snowball effect on their developmental and academic life, they often find it hard to forgive and overcome.

Because youths are dealing with unresolved hurts, they often find it hard to forgive and overcome.

According to Jacquelyn, an integrative approach combining psychotherapy and relaxation techniques can help depressed youths cope with their strong emotions. The therapy involves talking things through to find out what causes the depressive emotions to set in. It also gives them coping skills to shift negative patterns, and tools they can use on their own to battle those depressive feelings.

It also involves deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation to help them regulate their senses and emotions.

What can family members do?

Family members play a significant role in fulfilling the essential needs of love, attention and acceptance of a depressed youth.

When depression gets in the way, efforts to create joyful moments by having fun together as a family can make a real difference.

When depression gets in the way, efforts to create joyful moments by having fun together as a family can make a real difference.

We should set aside time to engage our youths in activities that they enjoy, be it a sport or a hobby. By spending time together over a meal or fun activity, we communicate to them that they are important to us, and that we will be there to walk with them through the good times and bad.

Tips for parents

  • Take note and be aware of your youth’s emotional state. Be vigilant especially if they seem overly-sensitive or cry easily.
  • Pick up any recurrent words of putting themselves down and thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Don’t leave your youth spending too much time in their room alone.
  • Be interested in their social activities and friends. Put devices down and hear them out when they are sharing their thoughts or feelings.
  • Be ever present and walk with them in their difficult times, such as when making big decisions.
  • Understand your youth’s struggles especially in their transitional years.
  • Remain calm and avoid critical or judgmental remarks when you share your opinions.
  • Advise with care and reprove with love that your youth is able to listen and reciprocate without feeling rejected and unworthy.
  • Encourage and provide support when they are under pressure.

© 2018 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Is your child battling depression or other issues? Make an appointment with a counsellor today.

Has your child mentioned friends being stressed by school or bullied online? Do you know if your child or their friends have entertained thoughts of suicide?

With the Raising Future-Ready Kids: Mental & Emotional Resilience and Suicide Prevention & Mental Health webinars, we give you handles to build on foundations of open communication and supportive relationships to protect your child’s mental health and emotional well-being. Discover how you can raise mentally strong teens and create a safe space for your child at home at these webinars.

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