Frequent ups and downs are an ordinary part of a teenagers life, which makes it difficult to differentiate between usual teenage glumness and depression. Teens may not always be able to express what theyre going through or they might not want to talk about.
It is essential as a parent to learn how to talk about mental health with them to help them feel comfortable to open up and speak about their own concerns and end the stigma before it begins.
Watch out for these warning signs:
- They may often come across as irritable and cranky, more than sad
- They may feel misjudged or highly sensitive to criticism
- Difficulty in concentrating and low energy may lead to attendance problems, poorer grades and frustration with school work
- Frequent drug and alcohol abuse
- Low self-esteem that may play out as expressions of hostility, embarrassment, unworthiness and failure
- They may spend excessive time on gadgets
- Changes in appetite and odd eating habits
- Feeling of worthlessness and guilt
- Staying away from social and family relationships
- Difficulty in concentrating
These warning signs can look like a usual part of a teenagers daily life and in many cases thats exactly what it will be. The symptoms exist on a range and the key objective is to be alert with regards to the duration and severity of the symptoms and the departure from whatever is normal for a teen.
The Conversation That Will Help Protect Your Teen
One of the best things you can do for your teen is to let them know that youre available to them. Here are some ideas for how to make that happen:
Make them realise that you are there from them:
Let them know youre there for them entirely and whenever they want. Be careful as to not to ask too many questions. Maintain their space; you dont want them to feel crowded or patronised.
Put the invite out there:
At times starting the conversation is the stiffest part. Here are a few ideas to get things started:
- Are you okay? Im here if you ever want to talk.
- You seem a little down/ worried/ exhausted/ sad lately. Is that how youre feeling at the moment? Then, subject to the answer, Would you like to talk about it?
Give them an easy out:
Take a car trip as the time limit so they know there is an easy end to any difficult conversation and that they have control. Let them understand that you will only talk until you pull into the driveway and then they can decide whether or not to keep the conversation going. It is completely up to them “ no questions or quarrel from you. You can ask them Do you think we can talk about how youre travelling? Let us do it like this. Let us chat until we pull into the driveway and then I promise well talk about something else if you want to.
Be gentle, persistent and available but not invasive:
Your teen might not open up straight away “ and thats okay. Keep trying but be alert of pushing too hard. It is vital to keep making yourself available for when theyre ready.
Dont try to talk them out of their depression:
Even if their thinking seems unreasonable, it isnt that way to them. Endorse them, Its bothering you isnt it, or I can see how upset you are, so they know they can come to you again.
(Writer is Carlton D’souza, Counselling Psychologist, Dept. of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, S. L. Raheja Fortis Hospital. Views expressed are personal opinion.)