Parent's Guide to Spotting Teen Depression and Anxiety

A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health revealed the prevalence of anxiety disorders in adolescents aged 13 to 18, with more than 8% suffering from severe impairment. Depression is becoming more prevalent, too, with more than 13% of the country’s teens experiencing at least one major depressive episode in their lives. This can be really alarming for parents, especially since it’s not easy to spot the symptoms and indicators of anxiety and depression in teens.  

Mother puts hand on shoulder of depressed teenager.

The situation is even more serious when you consider the lack of support in educational institutions. There is a growing demand for more psychologists in schools as there is currently a huge shortage. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of one psychologist for every 500 -700 students. In Polk County, there is one school psychologist for every 2,200 students. And this is common across the country. To deal with the shortage, schools are looking for psychologists that can relate to students and what they’re going through. Maryville University claims that the connection between psychology and education is leading to a growing demand for specialists who can understand this correlation. If the need for more support isn’t met, the number of depressed and anxious teens that don’t receive help will only continue to increase.

 A parent reading this will find it very distressing. However, you can help. If you’re wondering if your children are suffering from anxiety and depression, here are some of the things you need to look out for:

Constant Fear and Nervousness

The Conversation notes that one of the most obvious signs of anxiety disorders is a fear and nervousness that doesn’t go away. It can be really challenging to differentiate between the normal emotional challenges that come with puberty and signs of anxiety. If you’re seeing a lot of fearfulness, secretive behaviors, constant worrying, and nervousness in your teens, you can ask them if it’s something they experience on a daily basis. Everyday worrying is normal, but if it’s already causing your teen to miss out on important opportunities, it may be a symptom of anxiety and depression.

Loss of Interest in Activities and Hobbies

If your teen suddenly loses interest in their favorite pastimes and hobbies, it may be a sign that they’re suffering from depression or anxiety. They will most likely withdraw from friends and activities, and show a lack of enthusiasm, energy, and motivation. You may also notice that they are performing poorly at school. Although not all teens show all of these symptoms, you will still notice a change in their social activities.

Prolonged Feelings of Hopelessness

This usually manifests through a change in your child’s sleeping and eating patterns. Either they will oversleep or eat excessively, or find it hard to sleep and have a loss of appetite. You will also notice that your kids often look sad, contemplative, and a bit withdrawn. They might even talk about or show signs of feeling worthless, useless, or even guilty. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that in some cases your teens may not appear sad, but they might make trouble, act out, feel a lot of rage, or show a lack of motivation towards trivial things. In the worst case scenario, you might have already seen self-destructive behaviors or even visible marks of self-harm. If this is happening you need to take your child to see medical professionals immediately.

Here on Hope Therapy Center we provided some of the simplest things you can do to help your teens, including offering reassurance and listening with focus and without judgment. Practicing deep breathing exercises can also help them deal with their fears and worries as it allows them to respond rather than react to outside stimuli.

Co-Parenting a Teenager with Your Ex

Teenagers are balancing on the thin line between childhood and maturity, and because our own teen years are so far behind us, it’s usually very difficult to relate to their problems. Raising a teenager is never easy, but when divorced or separated, it gets even tougher. You end up constantly worrying about the effects of the divorce or break-up on your teen, and often spend too much time arguing with your ex over parenting styles and rules. We will try and help ease the process by sharing a few expert tips on co-parenting a teenager with your ex, especially if your marriage or relationship ended on bad terms.

Father hugs teenage son.

Present a United Front

When married, or cohabiting, parents should always present themselves as a unit so that children can’t manipulate them individually and pit them against each other. When divorced, you have to remember that you still share a child, and still have to remain a single unit in that sense. Set down strict guidelines about curfews, rules, chores, etc. and make sure each parent follows them. Don’t try to be the favorite parent, or play good-cop-bad-cop. That’s allows room for manipulation, and may also lead your teenager to develop separate identities for both their homes.

Encourage Love for the Other Parent

Don’t badmouth your ex or let your teenager do so. If your child wants to spend a weekend with his father instead of at your place, let it happen without resenting either your teen or your ex. Encourage your kid to remain a big part of your ex’s life as well as yours. Don’t let them alienate the other parent, because they may end up blaming you later on if their relationship with their mom/dad deteriorates. Always try to remember that it was your relationship with your ex that ended, not your child’s, and so, when it comes to your children, be amicable towards each other.

Don’t Treat Your Teen as an Adult

Understandably, marital breakdown can leave a huge psychological impact on you, and of course you need someone to talk to. But don’t let your teenager become your confidante, because even though he or she may be taking all of this on with maturity, a teenager is not an adult. You can’t weigh them down with this emotional trauma, or turn them against their other parent, because they are emotionally and psychologically fragile. Teenagers, even those who come from tight-knit families, are struggling to find themselves, and are usually unsure of their identities; confiding in them the way you would to a friend or shrink may shape them and mold them in ways neither of you expected. All your teenager needs from you is support, guidance, and unconditional love.

 If you suspect that your teenager is engaging in illegal or unsafe behavior in order to deal with the new family situation, you may need to sit down and have a proper discussion with your ex, and then seek counseling with a therapist who specializes in working teens and their families. Don’t forget that both of you love your child equally, and only want what’s best for them. Don’t let your feelings towards your ex cloud your judgment, and have adverse effects on your teen.

Casual Marijuana Use Linked to Brain Abnormalities

This is an issue that many parents are concerned about - marijuana use with teens. Some studies suggest that as many as 30% of high school students smoke pot daily. 

Teens might use pot to relive stress, be part of a social crowd, lessen anxiety, etc.

Parents can make a big difference on their teens decision to use drugs.  However, if you find you need help seek professional help by working with a teen therapist.

How to Help an Anxious Teen?

Anxiety in teens is more common than you would have thought. One in every 8 children suffers from some form of anxiety, and that’s just in the United States. As tumultuous and difficult as anxiety disorders are for adults, they are considerably tougher for young children and teenagers who are already struggling with emotional and physical changes.

Dealing with an anxious teen and effectively comforting them in order to alleviate their anxiety is something that most parents have difficulty with on a regular basis. However, there are a number of ways in which parents, counselors, and mentors can help calm an anxious teen. They include:

Reassure

The first step towards helping an anxious teen is providing them with the reassurance that everything is alright. Anxiety is essentially a storm of unnecessary worrying thoughts that bring a teen’s fears to life.  While verbal reassurance is necessary, in order to effectively reassure an anxious teen you have to use your actions together with your words. Make the effort to practice deep breathing with your child so that they physically calm down, and then provide the verbal reassurance necessary.

 Encourage

Once you have managed to successfully reassure your child that they are in a safe environment, encourage and gently coax them to discuss the problems that plague them. Resist the urge to lecture, coach, and teach- rather persuade them to talk about their fears by withholding judgment. Be persistent in your willingness and availability to listen and do exactly that- focus on the listening instead of you talking.

Teach

When a teen shows willingness to open up and discuss the issues that worry them – and it can take a considerable amount to time for them to do so, take the opportunity to inform and teach them about anxiety. It’s important for a teenager to know that the thing which seemingly alienates them is in fact, quite common, and normal even. It is not harmful, nor is it dangerous to their well-being. Rather anxiety helps teens prepare their mind and body for the possibility of real threat. When we let our bodies react as it would when threatened in the absence of any real plausible danger, that’s when things get troublesome – and that’s what needs to be taught to an anxious teen to help them overcome their anxiety.

A Burbank therapist that specializes in working with teens struggling with anxiety can be the next step to helping your teen.  Call our office today to learn more about Burbank therapy for anxiety.

Anxiety in Children

I’d like you to take a minute to think of something that makes you anxious.  Public speaking? A creepy-crawly spider on the wall? Confronting a co-worker or spouse? What happens to you when you think of this scene? Elevated heart rate? Sickness in your stomach? Pressure in your chest and maybe heavy breathing? As an adult you have the ability to understand that an upcoming public speaking event may make you anxious.  You understand the symptoms associated with it, and may even have the skills to manage your anxiety and give a killer performance. 

Children with anxiety do not yet have these skills. An anxious child’s behavior may be seen as unacceptable and disruptive to others.  They may be labeled as “difficult”, “unruly”, “obnoxious”, or “too sensitive”.  In fact, they very well may be difficult to manage on a regular basis.  Let’s talk a little more about anxiety.

Parent comforts scared and anxious child on the beach.

What does anxiety look like in Children?

All children will be anxious at some point. Have you ever heard of separation anxiety or stranger anxiety? These two types of anxieties are present at typical growth development milestones.  Many times these types of anxiety are referred to as a “phase”.  For example, your child will temporarily experience crying when you leave them.  Then after a few weeks you will notice the crying will subside.  For children with anxiety disorders these symptoms last longer than a few weeks and will need extra care to help relieve their anxious feelings. .  For children, you most notice anxiety becoming a problem when they begin avoiding tasks or situations.  Here are some avoidance behaviors of a child experiencing anxiety:

  • Not wanting to eat in cafeteria

  • Not wanting to go to swimming lessons because of fear of putting face underwater

  • Not wanting to go to preschool or school because a parent is not there

  • Not wanting to raise hand in class or read out loud

  • Not wanting to sleep in your own bedroom

  • Not attending age-appropriate activities unless a parent is there.

  • Not wanting to be away from home unless they have a cell phone.

  • Not going out unless they have a complete change of clothes with them, in case they are sick.

Not All Anxiety is Bad

Anxiety is a very normal feeling that we all experience.  Many times anxiety is helpful and even keeps us safe.  You may experience anxiety when crossing the street. Being cautious before crossing may prevent you from being hit by a car.  Anxiety can also be motivating.  If you are anxious before a presentation at work or a big test coming up, anxiety can drive you to practice more frequently or study harder for the exam. 

When does Anxiety become a problem?

While anxiety can be motivating and protect us from danger, there comes a point when anxiety begins to interfere with every day life.  For children, it is when you begin to notice “the phase” not lifting.  For example:

  • It is healthy for a young child to be fearful and hesitant around strangers, but it is not healthy for your child to be fearful of “safe adults” (grandparents, teachers, babysitters) after a period of transition. 

  • It is normal for a child to be nervous the first day of school, but it is not healthy for a child to cry every day at school after the parent leaves. 

  • It is normal for your child to be nervous before a big test, but it is unhealthy for your child to throw up or want to call out sick the day of the test.

What can you do to help your child?

Anxiety in children is very treatable and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the number one treatment method, with overwhelming success.  CBT is a type of talk therapy designed to identify sources of anxiety, and create concrete usable solutions to manage the anxiety symptoms.  Teaching the child the concept FEAR, which stands for 1) feeling frightened 2) expecting bad things 3) attitude or actions that will help 4) results and rewards for effective coping. This process helps your child to challenge their negative thoughts (instead of allowing them to accept the belief as truth) and creates long lasting skill building. These skills allow children to safely face their fears, and break down their fear into smaller more manageable steps.  Over time, they will be able to use the skills they’ve learned in more broad situations.  Eventually these skills will help them adapt to an anxiety-provoking scenario more quickly. 

Hope Therapy Center specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the treatment of anxiety in children/young adults.  Contact us today to schedule your first session, and begin the process of helping your child cope with anxiety. 

Photo by Xavier Mouton

Reducing Disrespect From Your Teen

As a parent, you love unconditionally, and only want what’s best for your teenager. But sometimes, that love and affection can be misinterpreted, and leads to back-talk, disrespect and anger from your teen. This is a problem that almost every parent has faced at some point while raising a teenager; know that you are not alone. Don’t blame yourself, and don’t blame your teen; instead, try to understand why it is happening. Here’s what you can do to establish a better rapport between your adolescent and yourself: 

Disrespectful teenager with attitude sits on a dock.

Analyze the Situation

Try to get to the root of your child’s disrespectful behavior. Did they ask for permission, which you denied, evoking a snarky retort from them? Or did they roll their eyes at you because they asked you a question and you said something along the lines of, “because I said so”? Sometimes, an act of disrespect is actually your child’s frustration coming out. You are the parent, and mostly, it is your duty to mend relationships, because although they believe themselves to be the adult, in truth, you are. It is therefore important that you take the first step and communicate to them that you are open to what they have to say, and they don’t need to feel frustrated as long as they try to explain their perspective to you, and vice versa. Don’t expect this to work the first time, it will take time for your patterns of communication to change, but if you keep at it, both you and your teen will see the difference.

Give to Receive

Teenagers are stuck in this limbo between childhood and adulthood, and as nothing around them makes sense, they try create autonomy as some form of stability, helping them exert control over at least one aspect of their life. You can’t treat them like children, and can’t expect them to comply with rules without an explanation. If your daughter asks for an extended curfew, and you just say no, it may come across as lack of trust on your part. You have to gently explain your reasoning, and try saying something like, “I know you want to stay out a bit later, but we have to get up early tomorrow to go to a family function and we both know that when you don’t get enough sleep it is hard for you to get up”. Once you talk to them with respect, they will view you as someone deserving of their respect. Look for opportunities to increase their autonomy. At times find a comprise on their desire to extend curfew that you can see as reasonable and create a check-in time if you are feeling a little nervous about extending the curfew.  For example, “I am feeling a little worried letting you stay out to 1am, how about you call me at 11pm to let me know how everything is going and that you are being safe.” As much you hate it, the truth is they are growing up, and must be talked to as adolescents reaching adulthood.

Choose your Battles

Parents can be embarrassing to a teenager; it’s a general rule of life. You were probably at some point embarrassed by your parents, your parents were embarrassed of theirs, and it went on and on for generations before you, and will continue to go on till the end of time. When you say something goofy, your children will probably smirk at you, or roll their eyes, and sigh. They may even call you “weird” or other name. Don’t take these too personally or make a big deal out of them. Sometimes, you can even be amused by how much your cheesy behavior may affect their “cool status”. So don’t hold on and to every little sign of “disrespect” and punish them for it. If, however, you feel that their behavior is specifically directed to hurt you or others around you, you need to take action and call them out for it. If you nag constantly about every little thing, they will build up a tolerance to your words, and you will cease to affect them on an emotional level.

These interactions will take time before they show you results, but perseverance is key, and eventually, you will soon begin to see a transformation take place.

If you are struggling with communication or behavior issues with your teen, a psychotherapist that specializes in teen behavior issues can help.  Learn more by contacting Jennie Marie at www.Hope-Therapy-Center.com

Photo by Mikail Duran on Unsplash

Is Your Teen Struggling With Depression?

Teens are moody, they get sad, and they are reserved. But “depressed” is not a word to use lightly. Understand that Depression is a clinically diagnosed illness, and it may have nothing to do with outside circumstances. Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, wrote, “Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance; depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance.” This means that the feeling of depression is so overpowering, it feels entirely out of context to what is happening around you, and you may feel as though you are grieving when there is nothing, externally, to grieve about. The brilliant poet and author, Sylvia Plath, was successful in her career, had a beautiful young daughter, and a husband she loved, but her suicide is well-documented: she stuck her head into an oven one day and gassed herself to death. One of her most famous quotes is "Is there no way out of the mind?"

If your teenager is depressed, this is serious and requires care the way a physical illness like cancer would. Do not take depression lightly and expect your child to “snap out of it”, because that doesn’t happen.

Here’s how you can tell if your teenager is struggling with depression:

Father talks with a depressed, moody teenager who is non-responsive.

Common Symptoms

If your teenager is exhibiting certain changes in sleeping and eating patterns, irritability, uncharacteristic quietness, frequent crying, lethargy, and a general air of sadness, it’s important to keep an eye on them and document their moods and actions. If these signs persist for more than two weeks, contact a specialist who has the qualifications to correctly diagnose your child, as well as a medical practitioner who can rule out other possibilities. They may require medication, or therapy, or even a combination of both. A therapist that specializes in teen therapy can help you understand your teen and their depression.  Understanding how depression is affecting your teen can help improve your relationship. Teen therapy can help with teaching your teen how to cope with depression.

Side-Effects

Due to depression, your teen’s grades may be falling; they may lose interest in their friends and other social activities, and may be spending more and more time in isolation. Finding a new peer group, or engaging in new and dangerous activities like sneaking out are probably not signs of depression, because a depressed person has no energy to even get out of bed and dress every day. Depression, however, can lead to drug abuse or alcohol consumption in order to numb the mental anguish, and left untreated could lead to suicidal thoughts and self-harm. People don’t die of suicide, they die of sadness; and depression is a sadness so great it takes over every aspect of your life and grows around you like a vine.

Parents can help the most by not shrugging off depression as moodiness, and not blame themselves or their children. If you see signs of depression, talk to your teen and try to understand what they say, and also what they aren’t saying. Seek help, and just be there for your child, even if you don’t know what to do.