Being a parent is the hardest job on the planet, particularly when you have a teenager. But being a parent of a child or teen with a mental illness can feel unbearable at times.
Your friends are all rolling their eyes as they talk about the latest antic their teenager pulled. But sometimes it feels like what you’re going through is even harder. You want to help your teen, but it’s exhausting!
All parents want to do what’s right for their kids, but when your child is sick, either physically or mentally, the desire to “get it right” becomes even more intense.
If you are the parent of a child or teen with depression, know there’s isn’t one “right way” to parent them. There’s no magic wand that will help them feel better. Having said that, here are some ways you can support and show you love your child on their way back toward the light.
Accept Your Teen’s Depression
Well meaning parents every day insist that their child is just “feeling a little down.” They think they’re helping by reminding their teen of everything they have in their life to feel happy about or grateful for. Maybe they even buy their teenager the latest video game or something else they’ve been wanting. Surely a teen can’t be depressed if they have their basic needs met and people who care about them, right?
I wish it worked that way. Unfortunately, depression changes the way your teenager sees their world. Their depression isn’t about you. In most cases, parents of depressed teens haven’t done anything to cause the illness. It’s just that: an illness that changes the way their teen thinks and sees the world around them.
For many parents, accepting that your child has a mental illness is extremely difficult. It is natural to want to deny the truth and pretend that everything is the way it was before the diagnosis. But invalidating reality will only make your child feel shame. Accepting the truth will help your family take the necessary steps to getting the right help.
Communicate Openly About Your Teen’s Depression
Your teen needs you now more than ever. Teenagers need to feel that they can talk to parents or other trusted adults when their world feels dark. Often they talk to other depressed teenagers whose brains are also impacted by this illness. It is so important that you instead develop the trust it will take for your teenager to feel like they can speak to you about their problems.
Sit your child down and tell them they can come to you at any time for any reason. Let them know you could never be angry at them for how they feel. Be clear that you want to understand how they feel and won’t judge them for their thoughts and feelings. When they are ready to talk, listen closely and with an open mind and heart. Try not to get defensive-they’re depression isn’t caused by you even if in the moment they say things that sounds like they are blaming you. Instead, focus on listening deeply and understand. You can’t help them until you truly understand what they are going through.
Encourage Healthy Habits to Promote Mental Health
Mental health and physical health are very related. It’s a fact that an unhealthy body effects the mind, especially with a mental illness in play. Help your child’s recovery by encouraging healthy eating habits. Limit sugar, bad fats, and caffeine intake. Make sure they get plenty of exercise. This can be hard for depressed teenagers to find the motivation to exercise. Perhaps invite them to go for a hike or bike ride with you. And finally, help them get enough sleep each night by encouraging positive sleep habits by helping them find meditation to listen to at night, encouraging a consistent bedtime, etc. Remember that when it comes to healthy habits, leading by example is really important, so take care of your own body as well! Additionally, know that positive reinforcement (praising them for healthy habits) works better than nagging or punishments.
Talk to Them About Suicide
We get it, talking about suicide with your teenager isn’t easy. It’s a conversation no parent ever imagines they’ll have to have. But for the parent of a depressed child, the risk of suicide is a sad reality. Start the conversation with your child. Ask if they’ve ever thought about suicide. Asking these questions in an objective way allows your child to speak candidly with you and share their true thoughts and feelings with you. Don’t panic if they say they are thinking of suicide. Instead, assure them that you will do whatever it takes to get them help. Make it clear that you believe people who have suicidal thoughts get better with treatment whether that means an antidepressant or talk therapy.
And understand that there is no danger of a person planting a thought of suicide in someone else’s mind if it’s not already there.
*When in doubt, take your child to the emergency room or even call 911 if they are in immediate mental health evaluation. While suicidal thoughts can often be managed without emergency services, it is always better to error on the side of caution.*
Begin Counseling for Depression in Temecula, CA
Though you can be a big support in your child’s life, you’ll need the help and guidance of a trained mental health therapist. If your teenager finds a therapist they can trust, teen counseling is very, very effective for teen depression. As a Temecula, CA counseling clinic, we can help you connect with a therapist who works with teenagers.
If you or a loved one has a child or teenager suffering with depression, you are not alone. Please contact Outside The Norm Counseling to discuss treatment options.