Your child is going through a momentous phase of life – his teenage years. This milestone transition from childhood to adolescence is filled with excitement, frustrations, jubilations and uncertainties as he juggles school, friends, family and other new-found interests. Sometimes, all these overwhelming experiences can have a damaging or destructive impact on your teen’s life leading to mental disorders. Once such serious, yet alarmingly common, condition is depression.
Depression is considered a medical disorder that has negative influences on your life, while inducing constant feelings of loss or sadness with an inability to function normally in day-to-day life. “Being clinically depressed involves being engulfed by low moods with decreased energy levels and interests, hopelessness, social withdrawal and pessimistic views about the future and life in general,” says Ms Jayita Saha, Clinical Psychologist, Pavlov Mental Hospital, Kolkata.
Depression is, in fact, a severe condition and sometimes it can be mistaken as sadness or grief. In the case of grief, it is quite normal to experience it and it doesn’t affect the person’s self-esteem. In the case of depression, it is not so. “The symptoms of depression are sometimes manifested differently, and most often teenagers are unaware about such feelings and may not understand the need to voice their concerns,” says Ms Saha. She explains that during the adolescent stage, teens are often perceived as rebellious, and depression can commonly be masked by their dissident behaviours. This transitional phase where they are expected to take on further responsibilities but are at the same time still treated as children causes much stress and confusion to their seemingly simple existence. Added to this are the endocrinological changes that also contribute to the various other complexities that they are already dealing with as teenagers.
If your teen is displaying some of these common symptoms, over a period of time, he could be suffering from depression:
- Feelings of sadness / worthlessness / helplessness / emptiness / guilt
- Withdrawal from family, friends or any social circles
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Weight gain or loss due to sudden change in appetite or diet
- Excessive sleep or trouble sleeping
- Inability to perform daily activities normally
- Thoughts of death or suicide
“There are always higher chances among teenagers of this condition worsening with growing risks of harming oneself or other grave consequences like suicide as they are unable to cope with the problem by themselves,” says Ms. Saha. “It is also important for parents to keep in mind that depression can affect both boys and girls equally. However, since girls experience significant biological changes with puberty, their coping mechanisms vary,” she adds. Since adolescence entails several changes at both the physiological and mental level involving puberty, peers, relationships and academics among others, teenagers are easily prone to mental stress.
Here are some ways in which you can help prevent depression in your teen:
- Adopt a suitable parenting style: Make an effort to spend quality time with your child, providing opportunities for him to share with you the happenings in his life. Your parenting manner should allow him to understand that you are approachable and that he can share his problems with you. Don’t expect him to share his troubles with his friends as they are not mature enough to help him cope with his difficulties.
- Be aware and alert: Your teenager could be facing difficulties owing to academics, friends or peer pressure. Be aware about any deviations in his regular routines, behaviour or mental state. Make sure you do not misread these signs as typical adolescent demeanour. Refrain from comparing him to his peers, hoping that this is a phase that will pass. If you do find that he is troubled and is displaying some of the common symptoms, seek help immediately.
- Ensure basic needs: Insist that your child keeps healthy with a nutritious diet, adequate sleep and stays away from unhealthy addictions to gadgets and television. Encourage him to pursue an extra-curricular activity that will help him de-stress from the monotony of school and academics. Although his friends play an important role in his life, keep an eye on the company he keeps and ensure that they have positive influences on his life.
- Don’t fear social stigma: Your child’s well-being is your priority. Don’t let the social stigma that surrounds mental conditions blind your concerns and the necessity to seek the much-needed help that your child might require. There is no harm in consulting a professional to assess the situation. Giving in to the stigma, which is unfortunately rife in our society, will only have further negative consequences for your child.
- Accept and talk about It: You might be overly upset that your child is suffering from something so intense. However, don’t overlook the severity of the situation. Continue to help and support her outside of the professional treatment. Let her be constantly reassured of your love and that you are doing all you can for her betterment. Be sure to inform the principal and respective teachers at school so that they are aware of her condition and can provide the necessary backing as well.
Watching a child suffer from clinical depression is most certainly challenging for any parent. Do your best to assure her of the right treatment options. “Sometimes if the condition is not assessed as serious, then counselling sessions and therapy will get her back on track. If her condition is, however, confirmed to be serious coupled with a history of depression in the family, then it might be recommended that she receive medication as well,” Ms Saha explains. So, make sure you follow the right course of professional treatment, which along with your continued love and support will remediate and strengthen your child’s mental well-being.
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