How To Help A Depressed Teenage Son

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I get the call almost every week. How do I help my teenage son with depression?

Sounds scary? Well there are some things we can do.

It amazes me and concerns me a bit how much I get questions about teenage

depression and we know that this is an issue now. In fact, I was looking over the

statistics for teen depression. When kids reach the age of 12 or 13,

the statistics start to really skyrocket, maybe skyrockets the wrong word for it,

but they increase significantly as kids get into those teenage years for

depression and the related problems that come along with depression. We see it in

both boys and girls, tends to be a little more prominent for girls in those teen

years than it does for boys. The statistics I saw were from about 5% of

the population up to about 8% are experiencing some kind of significant

diagnoseable depression. Now depression is only diagnosed when it becomes severe

enough or prolonged enough to cause some significant impairment in that person's

life so beyond the clinical depression, I think there's a sub clinical depression

going on with our teenagers that is probably far more prominent than these

numbers that I'm sharing with you. I thought as we were approaching this

particular topic today, that it might be helpful to just give you some of the

things to watch out for. Sometimes you're going to pick up on some of these signs

and symptoms of depression where your son is fine but having some

challenges. You might pick up on these signs and symptoms as an indicator

that there's actually a clinical depression going on that's going to need

some more intensive treatment or response. Let's just talk about what

we're looking for to begin with. So I'm going to go clinical on you here.

Depression, regardless of age includes a depressed

or irritable mood and for kids, irritable is probably more common than depressed

in terms of what kind of an observable mood that you see,

okay. So irritability is one of those things, we're just going to be sensitive

to and it lasts for at least two weeks with at least five of the following

symptoms. I know you're not a psychologist and it's not your job to

diagnose your kids but I'm sharing this clinical information with you so that

you'll be better informed and you might choose to engage a professional, a

psychologist or a therapist or a counselor who can help you to get an

accurate diagnosis, even your family doctor can help with this. So here's the

symptom list, remember, it has to be at least two weeks of that depressed or

irritable mood with at least five of the following clinical signs and symptoms.

Here we go. Feeling sad or blue. Now that makes sense, right? Crying frequently. Now

may I add also that it's particularly concerning if these are something that's

not typical of your child? If your child always cries easily and

always has then we're not going to use this as a symptom, do you see what we're

saying? But if it's something that's a change or something that's new for your

kid then that's something you want to pay a little more attention to. A loss of

interest or pleasure in usual activities. So the things that they normally enjoy

doing yeah they're not so interested in them anymore. That's usually something to

pay attention to. A significant increase or decrease in appetite. Now here's

another little disclaimer, okay, because we're talking about teenagers

specifically. When kids get into their teenage years, there's all kinds of

factors that are making this more complicated including hormonal changes

and changes in their body and changes in their brain and in their interests and

in their socialization. I had a guy come in to see me once and he said, this is

just not like my kid at all. As we got further into it,

it's not his kid, it's his teenager. Hear the difference? Yeah, so there will be

some natural changes that are going to occur and it makes it a little tricky

because we have to kind of balance out. Alright, how much of this is

attributable to just becoming a teenager versus how much of this is something

that we should pay a little more close attention to? Continuing with the list. A

significant weight loss or failing to gain weight appropriately or gaining

excessive weight. So it's out of the ordinary in other words, not what you

would expect. A change in sleep pattern including an inability to sleep or

excessive sleeping. On the note of sleep, teenagers need more sleep than kids or

adults, it's just a developmental requirement that they have and usually

eight to ten hours of good solid sleep time is pretty typical for what

teenagers are needing so outside of that though, if they're sleeping all day or if

you're finding that it's excessive then that might be a sign or symptom.

Agitation, irritability or anger. Again, common in teenage years but we're

looking for something that is is more than you might expect to be normal.

Fatigue or loss of energy. A tendency to isolate from friends and family. Trouble

concentrating. In my earlier career, when I was just starting out as a

psychologist and I had a traditional psychotherapy practice, this was one of

the most troubling things for me in my practice because diagnosis is so

complicated. I just shared with you trouble concentrating, well that's also

the primary symptom of attention deficit disorder and sometimes you'll get

depression together with other diagnoses like ADHD or conduct disorder or some of

the other common childhood disorders that we see. So it's hard to pick it

apart sometimes. The next one on the list, feelings of worthlessness or excessive

guilt and then finally thoughts of suicide and incidentally, sadly, suicide

is the third leading cause of death for people ages 12 to 25. That's an

alarming statistic, that's something that we want to change an impact if we can

and there is a lot that we can do about it, that's why I'm sharing with you

this list. Now what can be done? Let's say that you're seeing some of those signs

and symptoms and that it's more than would be expected for a typical teenager

and oh by the way, if you're not sure, if this is your only teenager, you might

want to talk to some other parents, you might want to go online and get into a

community where you can kind of get a sense of what's the norm, not that the

norm is always healthy, okay? Because maybe you still want to do something

about some of these things even if it doesn't reach the level of clinical

depression but what if you're seeing some of these signs and symptoms and

it's severe enough that you think that there might be an issue? What can you do

about it? Therapy is helpful and the clinical

research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, some of

these therapy modalities have a lot of good track record for making some

significant impact on a depression kind of a manifestation. Get some help, talk to

some counselors, talk to a psychologist or a mental health professional that can

help you to to nail that down, tends to be very helpful. Changes in lifestyle and

behavior including diet, exercise, sleep patterns, sometimes a little adjustment

in those makes all the difference. Oh, and on the front of exercise, we have tested,

exercise, put it up against antidepressant medication, in the

clinical trials, exercise usually wins and teens tend to be very active for the

most part. If they're not, that's something that is going to help their

mood significantly to get active and to have that exercise in place.

I mentioned medication. Sometimes just the right medication is helpful. Now

get with a professional, talk to your doctor about this or a psychiatrist

who's experienced in treating adolescents because their particular

chemistry requires a little bit of yes with all the other changes that are

happening in their body and in their life. Other kinds of treatment,

complementary therapies, groups. So in addition to traditional therapy and

medication, there's all kinds of other supportive things that can help like

yoga or meditation or interest groups where they get to get involved with

other people their age, engaging in something that they're interested in, all

of these kinds of things can be helpful. I think the main thing is, let's open a

conversation here with our teenagers about what's really going on in their

life, we're going to watch for those signs and symptoms. There are a lot of

resources, even right here on this channel, look for the magnifying glass

because YouTube, I don't know if you knew this, YouTube is one of the largest

search engines on the planet and you will find enormous resources here, front

right here on this channel but also from some of my colleagues and other content

creators who are putting some information out there to help you as a

parent. We can do something about this. I am so glad you're here and teaming up

with us to take on depression. I think we can help each other as we share these