Updated: Jun 4, 2022
Seeing a loved one go through challenging things like depression can be difficult. As a caregiver of a teenager with a depressive disorder, you may be wondering what you can do to help.
It is important to understand what depression is. In many ways depression should be treated like an illness. Your teenager cannot choose to get over depression and should be brought to a mental health professional for help, just like they would go to the doctor for the flu.
Depression is characterized by things like low mood and a loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities. You may notice that your teen seems sadder than usual or does not enjoy activities they used to. They may have a hard time getting out of bed that goes beyond the difficulty many teens have getting up early.
Other signs of depression can include changes in eating habits or weight, sleeping too much or too little, low self-esteem or difficulty concentrating that may lead to trouble with schoolwork.
Teenagers with depression may also have recurring thoughts of death or thoughts of ending their life. If your teen displays warning signs of suicidal thoughts or mentions these thoughts, it is essential to take them seriously. If it is an emergency, call 911 or bring your teen to the hospital. When a teen trusts you with this sensitive information, do your best to respond calmly and with compassion. Even while taking action such as calling 911, try to maintain a calm tone of voice while with your teen. Take deep slow breaths to help yourself remain calm in distressing situations.
Individuals with depression can be treated through therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Once you have helped get your teen access to appropriate mental health services, you may still be feeling stuck as a caregiver about how to help them.
One important aspect of supporting a teenager with depression is to provide a safe space for them to talk. Coping with depression can be frustrating and exhausting. It may make other stressful parts of being a teenager more difficult to manage. Check-in with your teen about how they’ve been doing and how their mood is. Providing a listening, non-judgmental listening ear can help validate their experiences. You may be tempted to give advice but just listening may make your teen feel respected.
Another thing caregivers can do to support their depressed adolescent is to create and encourage a routine. Doing a few important tasks the same way at the beginning of the day may help your teen continue to engage in their daily life.
Try to include physical activity as a part of their routine. Teenagers who are depressed may become less active which can worsen their symptoms. Research shows that exercise can help with depression. Additionally, make sure your teen continues to eat regular, nutritionally balanced meals.
Encourage healthy sleeping habits. Shutting off screens an hour before bed and maintaining a set sleep routine can help your teen have an easier time falling and staying asleep. Setting a consistent time to go to bed and wake up, avoiding caffeine especially later in the day, and making sure the sleep environment is comfortable are all important factors of sleep hygiene. Assist your teen in only using their bed for sleep. Watching TV or doing homework in bed can make it harder for their brain to signal their body that it is time to fall asleep.
Remember, work with your teenager’s mental health provider to partner in their treatment. If you have concerns about supporting your teen, ask their provider if a collateral session (a session between you as the caregiver and your teen’s therapist) is an option to get their advice.
Ask your teen’s provider if it would be appropriate for you to assist your teenager in remembering to complete their out-of-session work if they have any. For some teens this may be helpful but for others it may cause frustration or be counterproductive. Either way, be sure to continue to bring them to treatment until their provider recommends they are ready to stop.
Aiding a teenager with depression can be exhausting for you as a caregiver, too. Take time for yourself and maintain good self-care. Your holistic well-being is essential if you want to have enough energy to care for your teen well. Check out these “15-Minute Self-Care” and “Self-Care Plan” resources to get self-care tips and create a personal plan.
What’s one way you can support your teen today? What’s one way you can practice self-care?