Teen depression and substance usage is on the rise and only getting worse. This is an epidemic we need to get in front of.
The teens in your life need to know someone is in their corner. They want to know someone cares and loves them. You may think they already know that, but often, so much is changing in their lives they start to doubt they understand anyone’s actual intentions.
Teens need to be reassured that getting help is not a bad thing. There is a huge stigma around mental health and teens need to understand that it affects all of us and that getting help is not a weakness, but rather a strength. Reaching out to talk to someone they trust, asking for help in various ways, are positive actions that they should be commended for.
Keep in mind, that if a teen comes to you for help, your job is to help them. Don’t brush off what they say as a mood swing, or hormones, or drama. Pay attention, offer resources and help them to find the best support. They came to you for a reason.
You want to build them up as well. Show them they have purpose, value and a place in this big world. Highlight their talents and provide ways for them to use those talents or get better at them. Let them know that everyone is not good at everything. We all have unique gifts and we need to do what is in our skillsets and not worry about the things we don’t know.
Explain that they won’t be able to make everyone happy and they don’t need to. I heard this saying years ago that I think applies to everyone. “What other people think of you is none of your business.”
Teens need to know that other people’s opinions are just that. Their opinions. And those opinions are often formed by beliefs that the other person has. It doesn’t make them truth.
Teen depression is not just a chemical form of depression but it is spiritual as well. They are learning about themselves, and their beliefs for the first time usually, that are separate from what they may have been taught.
There are 4 types of emotional states of teen depression:
Monotony – this consists of feeling bored, having no pleasure in life, sleeping a lot, not being interested in things they liked previously, waiting for something to change and isolating themselves.
Numbness – at this stage they shutdown because of emotional pain, the pain feel unbearable and unavoidable, they have a learned helplessness, they may self mutilate and possibly be suicidal as they view suicide as the ultimate numbness.
Grief – they feel like they lost a part of themselves or their family or friends, they self-medicate which worsens the depression, they fixate in a state of chronic grief, they are at a loss as to how to get out of the grief.
Apathy – this is a loss of all hope and waiting to die. They have accumulated a number of traumas and loss and lose the ability to feel pain. There is no suicidal tendency because there is no pain to escape from. They don’t believe anything will help and don’t know anything is wrong. They aren’t suffering or feeling anything.
Often, when they are experiencing one of the above emotional states, they may reach to drugs or alcohol as a way to escape from their feelings for a while. This can turn quickly into addiction when they keep looking for more of that escape.
Signs of addiction include changes in friends, acting secretive, no motivation, decline in grades, parents/guardians just feeling like something is not right, and/or moodiness.
There are ways for you to gently help even if you haven’t been asked. If you feel like a teen in your life could use some resources or needs to know you care, reach out. This may be on Snapchat or Instagram, it may be in the car while you are dropping them off at a friends house or at work. Take advantage of reaching out in the ways they communicate. They often won’t want to have a sit down conversation. They may do better telling you how they feel in a text or direct message, or in the car when they don’t have to look at you.
You can also help them by explaining that their emotions are a result of ongoing thoughts and are temporary. If they can name their feelings they can more easily change them.
Mindfulness is also helpful. Some ways to practice mindfulness include breath work, meditating, and being in nature. Let them know that whatever feels best to them is the way to go. If they don’t like a practice they try, they don’t have to keep at it. Encourage them to try different things and stick to what they find works at helping them feel better.