How to help a Depressed Adolescent

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"How to help a Depressed Adolescent"
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Teenage tantrums and those terrible teens! Teen years can be tough, demanding and difficult. It is understandable because of the stress associated with the process of maturing and the influence of sex hormones that are let loose into a teenager's body. Both can be extremely overwhelming experiences for the growing adolescent.

Eight times out of ten, teenagers are able to cope with the apprehensions of these changes. Their coping strategies are strongly linked to good friendships, sports, creative activities, successes at school and taking pride in their new-found sense of self. It is not as if the teenagers who manage these difficult transition years without much disturbance do not have their moments of moody glumness or temper tantrums.

But when these moods do not disappear as easily as they appear, and they tend to impact upon the teenager's personality, it is time as adults to sit up and act. Because if left untreated, teenage depression could lead to behavioral problems at school, susbtance abuse, eating disorders, self-injury, violence or even suicide. However, let this not alarm you as some "growing pains" are to be expected as teenagers grapple with the challenges of growing up. It is the prolonged signs that you must watch out for.

Signs to watch out for

Most common signs to watch out for are: persistent sadness, a loss of interest in regular activities - especially those s(he) was once interested in, unexplanable irritability, restlessness, anger or hostility, frequent crying, withrawal from family, and sleep problems. When you notice one or a combination of any of these, first consider how long these symptoms have been present and how severe they are.

Teenage depression can appear to be quite different from adult depression, especially when it comes to extreme sensitivity to criticism. Depression in teenagers is fraught with feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness, thus making them very vulnerable to rejection and criticism.

Experts say that only 20% of depressed teens ever receive help. This could be because teenagers often rely upon parents, caregivers or teachers to 'recognize' their suffering.
Thankfully, depression in adolescents can be treated, and as a concerned adult, there are many things you can do to help.

How you can help a depressed teenager

*The first thing you might want to do is talk to the teenager. Tell him or her exactly what changes you have noticed and why these worry you. Be gentle and loving in your tone. Encourage the teenager to open up and talk.
*If, at first, they shut you out saying 'I'm okay', respect their space and their unwillingness to talk about something that they find uncomfortable. But be gently persistent by showing your concern and offering to listen whenever they are ready to talk.
*When s(he) does begin to talk, try not to judge or criticise. Remember that they are already feeling very vulnerable. So, simply listen without offering any advice, unless asked to. It is often tempting to base our understanding of others on our own assumptions. This only clouds our mind and prevents us from listening actively.
*Even if you do not believe for one minute that what they are saying makes sense, do not try to talk them out of it or undermine their feelings. Simply acknowledge and listen.
*Resist asking too many questions, and assure them that you are there to offer unconditional support.
*Visit your family doctor, seek out a specialist with the doctor's help, and explore the options with the specialist. The specialist might choose either a talking therapy or medical intervention, or a combination of both.

But leave the treatment part to the specialist. You, as a concerned adult in the teenager's life, can stay involved in their treatment simply by being understanding and gently encouraging them to engage in social and physical activity, thus helping them reconnect with themselves once again.

More about this author: Maya Vokes-Didier

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