You’ve noticed the warning signs. Your child is grumpy, weepy, lonely, and refuses to eat. You’ve done your research, and you think he or she might be depressed. Now is not the time to run and hide, now is the time for action! Your kids need you; you are the strongest and best advocate for them. You may not know where to start, but we’re here to give you some direction.
1. Acknowledge what is happening
Depression can bring out feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, and isolation. We do ourselves and our children a favor when we fight against the urges to withdraw. Instead, reach out for help and support and seek understanding. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the signs and symptoms; depression doesn’t typically get better on its own. You’re dealing with something more than just sadness or “the blues.” Depression lasts longer, is more intense, and usually requires some intervention before the symptoms improve.
2. Talk to your child
Go straight to the source and ask your kid how they are doing. You will not put ideas in their head about depression (or suicide, for that matter) if you ask them how they are feeling or what they’ve been thinking about. A strong emotional vocabulary is vital; teach your kids from a young age how to identify and verbalize their emotions. If they can accurately identify their feelings, they can begin to connect their feelings with their thoughts and behavior, which is crucial for emotional health.
3. Ask other adults that know your child
Talk to teachers, coaches, and any other trustworthy adult that spends time with your child about your concerns. Ask if they’ve noticed any of the symptoms you have noticed. Give them a list of things to be on the lookout for (if they don’t know what to look for, tell them about these 8 warning signs of depression) and follow up about what they’ve observed. An outside perspective can be helpful in gaining clarity.
4. Involve your pediatrician
Don’t forget, pediatricians and primary care physicians are wonderful resources for mental health, in addition to physical health. Taking your child to see the doctor when you notice symptoms of depression will send your child the signal that you take their mental health seriously and that there is help available. A doctor can rule out alternate reasons for some physical symptoms while assessing the possibility of a mental health condition.
5. Seek therapy for your child
Psychotherapy, combined with medication, is the most effective treatment for depression in children and adults. Many providers encourage therapy as the first line of treatment for mild and moderate depression. Do not delay in getting therapy lined up if depression is limiting your child’s ability to carry out daily life, for example going to school or doing things they (used to) love. There are many qualified mental health providers in the Seacoast. Additionally, individual and family therapy is often a covered benefit through your health insurance plan. School guidance counselors and pediatricians can often suggest the name of a good therapist.
6. Seek therapy for yourself
A chronic mental health condition like depression is a challenge for the whole family. You may find that you need support and counseling to process your own complex thoughts and feelings related to your child’s emotional difficulty. Your family is going to need you to be at your best. For their sake, take care of your own mental health so you can take care of them.
Know that you are not alone.
In 2015, nearly 20% of adolescent girls between ages of 12 and 17 had at least one episode of depression, according to nationwide research. I don’t have to do the math for you, but that means one in five of your child’s friends has been depressed within the last year. Be an advocate for you child’s health and be on the lookout for their friends who may be suffering. You need to speak up, reach out, and get connected to a community that can walk this road with you.
If you or your child is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK. This information does not substitute medical advice.