Medicinenet.com tells us that 20% of all teens will struggle with depression before they are adults, and suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 in the united states. As a parent of a 4-year-old I take preventative actions to give my child the best chance in life. For example, I take her to well-checks with her pediatrician, dentist appointments, lock up harmful chemicals etc. But what about depression, the 3rd highest killer of our teens? How do we prevent depression in our teens, and what do we do if they are already developing depression symptoms?
How do we protect our children from depression?
The best place to start is at home. There are many things we can do at home to positively affect our children’s lives, to help prevent or resolve depression symptoms early. You can start by doing the following:
1 - Use simple techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Problem solving- Help them come up with solutions to problems they face. Many teens suffering with or developing depression find it hard to overcome or solve simple problems. For example, a teen might fall behind on homework and lose hope of being able to catch up. You can step in and help them come up with solutions to the problem. such as reducing other obligations or scheduling time a set amount of time to work on homework.
Challenging pessimistic thinking- Highlight and help them understand/question negative thought patterns. For example, a teen might start thinking in terms of all or nothing. “I am a weirdo because I said something weird.” Help them see that one instance cannot define them. They are a normal/good person who made one mistake.
2 - Implement simple health changes
Increase physical activity/exercise
Get a developmentally appropriate amount of sleep (for teens that is a little over 9 hrs.)
Reduce stressors and increase coping skills. For example, you can reduce their load to reduce stress. Some stress reducing techniques include, taking deep breaths, meditate, be present, reach out, etc. A good one to start with is deep breaths. Breath in for four seconds and hold it, then breath out for four seconds, repeat.
Simply put, be present and aware of your children and their struggles. Increase their ability to cope with life through teaching them healthy habits and how to maintain a positive way of thinking. And when all else fails, let your children know that you will be there for them when things get hard. If depression becomes an issue for you or your children, don’t be afraid to seek out professional help, you are not alone.