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Knowing How and When to Treat Anxious and Depressed Teens

  • The pandemic is affecting adolescents in many ways. In addition to the threat to our safety and security, the adjustment can be particularly stressful for them, and being stuck at home impacts their social-emotional and mental wellbeing, as well as increases feelings of isolation and loneliness.

  • It does appear that the rates of anxiety and depression are increasing. These are formative years in developing identity and sense of self, and being held back from their peer groups can hinder such growth. There’s so much for them to be anxious about from worrying about illness, family economic stress, missing friends, and the plethora of disappointments that come with this time, from birthdays to graduations to extracurriculars. In addition, staying home can affect the

anxiety in depression in those already suffering from it. For a kid with social anxiety, it feels much easier to be at home and not have to face classmates or feel the anxiety surrounding missing out on things. It’s easier for those with depression to stay at home as that is a comfort zone for them. Staying home halts their progression against these difficulties- they are not forced to challenge themselves in the same ways. It allows them to give in to what’s comfortable, which might not be what’s healthy.

  • Parents should be conscious of how their teens might be feeling at a time like this. Pay attention to signs of sadness, hopelessness, crying, irritability, fatigue, loss of interest, and low self-esteem. Changes in eating and sleeping patterns, difficulty concentrating as well as poor performance in school can also be a sign of anxiety or depression.

  • Open up a dialogue and talk about what signs you’ve noticed and why it worries you. It’s important for parents to model a sense of calm during this uncertain time. It’s helpful to listen to your kids, validate their thoughts and feelings, and let them know they are not alone. Reassurance that everything will be okay is often not enough because you can’t give that guarantee. Help them to understand what they’re feeling (and that worry is normal) and put it into words. Giving teens a sense of autonomy and control is also helpful. Talk about what they can control and choose for themselves. It’s important not to accuse them of feeling a certain way, to hold back on interrogating, and instead, open up the conversation where they can tell you how they feel and just LISTEN.

  • If a teen is experiencing any signs of anxiety or depression, they may need help with their mental health. Even without meeting those specific indicators, it could be helpful for them to see a therapist. The teen years are arguably one of the most emotionally difficult times, and COVID is making it so much harder. Their brains, bodies, social circles, beliefs, and senses of self are all developing and it’s difficult when they are so isolated.

  • If your teen is experiencing anxiety or depression, it’s crucial to seek help. Do your research and find a therapist in your area who specializes in working with teens. Your child’s school, pediatrician, or insurance company might be a good place to start for a referral. It’s important for you and them to recognize that seeking help is a positive thing.

  • If you fear your child might be at risk, seek professional help right away. It’s not something you should ignore and hope will pass. In a crisis situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or speak with a trained therapist who can provide actionable steps or resources. If self-harm is about to occur, it’s best to call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

  • After meeting with your teen, your therapist might recommend they meet with a psychiatrist to evaluate whether medication is needed. Finding the right medication often takes some trial and error.

  • Therapy is helpful even if the symptoms are minor. It’s helpful to have an unbiased adult to talk to when you’re going through something. It’s crucial that your teen feels the therapist is a good fit for them, and it’s someone they feel comfortable with. Regardless of how good the therapist is, if your teen feels they are being judged or can’t speak openly, they will unlikely progress.

  • I recommend talk therapy as the best place to start and to consider medication if needed. A combination is often the best way to treat it.

  • Medication can be helpful even for teens who haven’t experienced mental health struggles prior to the pandemic. If the anxiety or depression is severe, medication can sometimes bring them to a calmer mental place to be able to work it through in therapy.

  • Empathize with the pain they are feeling and acknowledge how difficult it might be for them to seek help. Getting a better understanding of why they are resistant will help you with your cause. Work towards normalizing therapy and help them to understand that it’s like any other doctor who helps you to feel better. Focusing on their priorities will help motivate them- if they haven’t been able to hang out with their friends but social life is important to them, they might want the help. Talk about how their current mental state is hurting them and what they want to be better. Continue to encourage them and don’t give up. In the meanwhile, it’s often helpful for a parent to go to therapy to get a better sense of what they can do for their child and themself.

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