I think my teen is depressed…

Perhaps you’ve noticed a shift in your child lately. Some days they seem completely fine, while others it’s hard to pinpoint what led to the breakdown unfolding before you. Maybe you’ve noticed that they haven’t been their smiling, carefree self for quite some time. Depression can show up in many ways in our students and can be hard to recognize. I often receive questions from parents trying to better understand their teenager’s depression

How do I know if they are depressed?

Depression can look different for everyone, but there are a few things you can look out for that could be good indicators. You might observe a loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, isolation, seeming distracted, and feelings of hopelessness. They might have dropping grades or suddenly start skipping practice for a sport they previously loved.

Many parents I’ve worked with were surprised to find that their teen is experiencing depression. I often hear “but everything is going so well for them right now.” Triggers for depression can be subtle and at times hard to identify from the outside. Things that seem small to you might feel impossibly big for them. One way we can encourage conversations about these things is to ask about a high and a low that they experienced that day.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the elephant in the room

Watching someone you care about struggle can sometimes leave you feeling helpless. When it comes to being there for support, the number one thing I encourage parents to do is have open conversations with their teenager regarding depression. Some examples of ways to start this conversation could be:

“I’ve noticed you haven’t been spending much time with your friends, what’s been going on?”

“I’m worried because you’re sleeping more than usual lately.”   It’s important that we aren’t trying to fix everything for them right then. You’d be surprised how far a validating statement like “you’re right, I imagine that would be really hard” can go. Stay curious about their experience and let them know that you are there to listen when they’re ready

Why are they self-harming?

Not every teenager dealing with depression will self-harm, and if they do that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to die. Finding out that your teenager is engaging in self-harm can be terrifying for a parent. The number one question I get from parents is “why?” One answer is that self-injury can be an unhealthy way of regulating emotions that are difficult for them to navigate. Since it’s not unusual for a teen engaging in self-injurious behavior to experience shame about it, your reaction to this news is important. If they are met with judgement or criticism, the conversation might end right there. I encourage parents to ask open ended questions regarding how they are feeling and explore what has been going on in their world to contribute to that.

These are tough topics and it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed and even a little lost at where to start when tackling them. Here at Lake House, many of our students and families are learning how to navigate things such as depression in a healthy and effective way. If you’re noticing signs of depression or self-harm with your child, it’s important to make sure you seek out other resources and support