Helping Your Teen Manage Anxiety & Depression

Teen Girl in Therapy

Ways Parents Can Help Their Children

Anxiety and depression are common mental health conditions in the United States. It is estimated that over 1 in 5 adults in the U.S experience a mood disorder like depression at some point in their lives. Teenagers are no exception, with an estimated 14% facing some sort of mood disorder. Anxiety is also common in teenagers, and has become more prevalent among this age group in recent years.

With so many teens and adolescents facing these conditions, parents need to know how to help their children manage their emotions and overcome the emotional and developmental pitfalls which are common to these challenges. The best way to support someone with anxiety or depression depends on the reasons for its presentation, as well as the individual’s preferences. Regardless of the situation,  there are numerous ways parents can help their children manage these difficult conditions.

Types of Anxiety

Worry is a universal human emotion. It is reasonable for a teenager to occasionally worry about an upcoming test, their performance in a class, or their social life. This kind of situational anxiety is not always easy to deal with, but it can often be alleviated with some simple strategies. It also usually passes after the given event or situation which provoked the initial worry. 

Common signs of anxiety include:

  • Frequent worrying
  • A rapid heartrate
  • Physical shakiness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Sleep issues

These are general physical and behavioral manifestations of anxiety. Anxiety becomes a major concern when worrying, or associated physical symptoms like sleep issues, irritability, and fatigue, become regular occurrences instead of isolated incidents. Persistent and severe manifestations of anxiety may be examples of an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder. In comparison with situational anxiety, these mental health conditions occur at a more debilitating level and require more focused – and often professional – interventions.      

Signs of an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder, include:

  • Persistent and excessive worry on most days for at least 6 months (indicative of generalized anxiety disorder)
  • Recurrent experiences of panic attacks, which may include heart palpitations, feelings of doom, difficulty breathing (indicative of panic disorder)
  • Worry that makes an individual avoid social situations (possibly indicative of social anxiety disorder)

Addressing Anxiety

The best way to help your teenager address their anxiety depends on its source and severity. Situational anxiety, perhaps over a relationship or a difficult class, may be helped with a direct conversation. Parents can ask their child the source of their worries, and work together to come up with plans of action or new, more positive ways of framing a situation. Parents can also encourage their children to find healthy outlets and coping mechanisms, perhaps in the form of a new hobby, a designated time during each day to put away their phone or coursework, or the practice of stress-reduction techniques like focused breathing.

More severe anxiety may require professional help beyond the ability of parents to address. Anxiety disorders may best be addressed by a trained therapist or counselor with who the teenager can work over a period of time to address triggers of anxiety, expose themselves to difficult situations, and internalize positive coping mechanisms.

Signs of Depression

Depression is another common mental health condition in teens and adolescents. Female teenagers and adolescents experience depression at greater rates than young men of the same age, although depression is not uncommon in male teenagers as well.[iv] Like anxiety, depression can be situational – occurring in response to a particularly difficult event or situation. It may also be a persistent force in a teenager’s life with no obvious causes. Signs of clinical depression include:

  • Regular feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, hopelessness, or worthlessness
  • Difficulty performing common daily tasks
  • A loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies and activities
  • Uncharacteristic behavior, like aggression or risk taking
  • Fatigue and lethargy, excessive sleep, or sleep issues like insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts or self-harm[v]

Addressing Depression

Parents who wish to support their teenager or adolescent with depression can begin by having a discussion with their child. It is important for parents to remain nonjudgmental and to ask what sorts of issues and feelings their child is experiencing. Sometimes, a teenager may be depressed about a particular event or situation. Other times, especially in the case of clinical depression, there may be no immediate or obvious cause. The best thing a parent can do is to create a positive and encouraging environment, and to be open to pursuing professional help such as counseling or therapy for their child if their condition is serious or chronic.

Parents can create a supportive environment by indicating that they take their child’s emotions and struggles seriously. They should read up on conditions like major depressive disorder or anxiety disorders, and understand that these conditions cannot simply be overcome with sheer willpower.

Parents can encourage their child to express their emotions, and work with their child to find positive coping strategies. These strategies can involve the development of a schedule, a particular hobby the teenager enjoys, a dependence on friends and loved ones, or a self-care routine such as listening to music or journaling. Parents can also help their teenagers set personal goals, offer their compassion and willingness to listen, and ensure that their kids have the support they need in terms of professional help.

Therapy and Lifestyle Changes to Combat Depression

Therapy for depression can take many forms. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for instance, involves identifying self-limiting beliefs and replacing them with more positive, affirming, and realistic ideas. Regardless of the therapeutic style used, parents can help their teenager by working with them to find a therapist with whom they feel comfortable. This process may take some time and effort. Once this relationship is established, parents can keep in contact with their child’s counselors on a regular basis to monitor what emotional progress and roadblocks they may be experiencing.

At home, parents can encourage healthy lifestyle choices, like a nutritious diet and regular exercise. Parents can make adopting these lifestyle changes easier by keeping healthy foods in the home, or by helping their teen find a form of exercise they enjoy. Healthy habits – regular exercise in particular – have been proven to aid in combating depression symptoms. Parents can also work to minimize stress in the household to create a positive emotional environment.

Managing chronic mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression, is a process with ups and downs. As is the case with most mental health conditions, individuals with depression or anxiety issues will have good and bad days. However, professional treatment can go a long way in treating more chronic or severe cases of mental health issues. While there may not be a quick fix for depression or anxiety, there are positive habits, choices, and coping strategies that parents can help their children develop over time.

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