All teens have low moments. But when those low moments become the norm and regularly affect their day to day lives, we call this depression.
I’m now a 23-year-old woman, but I experienced depression all through my teens. It left me feeling lonely and detached at times, but depression is much more than feeling sad. Some days I would feel as though things just felt ‘wrong’ or ‘off’, feeling really irritable around friends and family, even carrying a conversation, or smiling felt like a struggle. Other days, I would be crying for seemingly no reason, or feeling so incredibly numb, I felt hopeless and as though I was suffocating in all these overwhelming thoughts and feelings.
I’m writing this blog to give parents, grandparents, or loved ones some ideas and guidance as to how you can support your own child through depression and ease their emotional states during their low moments.
How can you help your child manage the emotional strain of depression?
#1 When to listen, and when to just sit in silence
For me, it was plainly obvious when my parents were listening to what I was telling them, but not actually hearing or understanding how I was feeling. I needed them to be supportive, but when they’d tell me they wanted to listen to me, but acted really distracted, I felt the overwhelming feelings of being a burden. This made me resentful to my parents for not being as interested in my well-being as they claimed to be.
There were some days where I needed to express my thoughts and feelings, and other days I had no energy to talk at all about my all-consuming depression. That’s okay. You don’t have to try to get your teen to talk, because they may not have anything to say, and sometimes even if they did, they wouldn’t know how to say it.
Other times, what we need is someone to sit with us during these episodes of loneliness, to remind us we are never truly alone. Other times I preferred to be given space to be alone. What helped and calmed me in these moments was:
My advice for parents would be to listen and validate what your teen says to you. Most of the time my parents would brush off my depression as ‘attention seeking’ and to get my ‘act together’. Depression for me was being constantly hard on myself, so letting your teen know you see how hard they’re trying and acknowledging the difficulties in talking about these feelings - will make them so grateful. Remember that you don’t have to be talking and offering solutions to offer emotional support – just being there in their darkest moments can be enough. You can learn more about the difference between empathy and sympathy in this short video here
#2 Reaching out to your child
Many times, I got told to ‘reach out for support’ – this included to a helpline, my GP, a friend, just to someone – getting told constantly ‘you are not alone’. For me, my depression destroyed my self-confidence and self-worth. No matter what anyone told me, I felt undeserving, guilty, and weak asking for help. Each teen will have their own reasons and circumstances on why they find it difficult to reach out to loved ones or professionals. This is why it’s important that you reach out to your child instead.
Most of the time, I would struggle to ask friends and family for emotional support. How can you reach out to your own child or teen? What I would have found really helpful to feel supported was:
Even if your teen doesn’t always respond or hardly replies because living with depression can make this difficult, they will appreciate the effort and support to help keep their spirits up.
We give loads more suggestions like these in our online course which I really recommend you check out by clicking here
#3 Remind your child who they are
My main low point of my depression was no longer feeling like myself anymore. I no longer felt like ‘Rachel’, but ‘depressed person’, ‘failure’, ‘not my daughter anymore’, ‘a patient’, or a ‘NHS number’. My identity slowly went from ‘happy, bubbly, and full of life’ to ‘withdrawn, irritable, and numb’ – no longer my parent’s ‘perfect’ daughter but another copy of depression.
My happiness and love of adventure slowly started to fade, with my excitement for trying new things. Even having the energy to do things depleted, making me lose interest in my hobbies, friends, family, school, and experiencing life in general. This made me feel like a former shadow or shell of myself, giving me no purpose to get out of bed or a reason to do anything productive.
Depression is exhausting. Recovery is even more exhausting and daunting. My friends reminded me of myself everyday whilst I was attempting to push through my numb and lifeless states.
Things that helped me were:
What I learnt was to stop chasing the old me because I could never find the same girl again because of everything I went through. Instead, after recovery I found a brave, strong, and ambitious young woman that could take on anything.
#4 Mention all the positives
No matter how small the positives seem in relation to all the negatives – praising all the little achievements is the support they need with all the harsh thoughts they have about themselves. Going to school, doing their chores, going to extracurricular activities, meeting up with friends: these are all positive steps. Even if these are things you expect from them, it can really help with their low mood if you recognise what a good job they are doing.
My parents would hardly congratulate me on all the positives I would do, just because it was the expectation they had for me all the time. But if I took ‘a step outside what they wanted’ they highlighted all my problems. The positives should outweigh the negatives. It will mean the world to your teen that you have taken the time to notice these seemingly small tasks – these tasks require a lot of strain on themselves.
It’s important to remember that all the frustrations you may be feeling with your child when they're depressed are probably felt by them too and it's horrible to think about yourself like this. It’s not something they can easily change with a snap of their fingers. Patience, love, and support can be super helpful for all teens in similar emotional states.
#5 Be supportive
Depression can be very lonely and tiring for all young people, which can start to affect their daily activities and relationships. When my depression got really unbearable at times, the supportiveness from my friends helped me to manage and express my feelings. But at times that still wasn’t enough. I needed a stronger and more dependable relationship with my parents.
I understand the frustrations of watching your teen being low or irritable most of the time, but depression makes even doing the smallest things seem like the biggest challenge. The best advice I can give from my own personal experiences with depression is to try and validate their feelings and emotions, not their unhealthy actions. My parents only wanted to try and solve the problem as quickly as possible instead of trying to understand what was troubling me emotionally, which made me feel like they were disappointed in me instead of loving me.
I’d recommend that when you speak to your child or teen you:
For parents, I understand that you feel as though you’re not doing enough by merely supporting them and feel the need to try and fix all their problems. But being there for them and communicating your acceptance is exactly what they need from you.
If you didn't click the link earlier in the article, I need you to do so now to better understand the difference between sympathy and empathy in this short video here.
I’ve only briefly covered some suggestions in this article but really recommend you check out our free online course where we go into these points in so much more detail. It’s practical so you can immediately put it into action and help your child or teen. I’ve put the links below:
SIGN-UP FOR OUR FREE ONLINE COURSE where we coach you to play a key role supporting your child’s healing & recovery; their journey back to health and happiness: www.youthmentalhealthfoundation.org/onlinecourse
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE BOOKLET and learn how a mother led her self-harming teenage child back to health & happiness: www.YouthMentalHealthFoundation.org/e-book
We will be publishing an article in our blog very soon - so watch this space.
Research and Community Executive