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NORTH OGDEN — 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 and lock up harmful chemicals around the house. But what about depression?
According to Medicine Net, 20 percent of all teens will struggle with depression before they are adults. The doctor-produced health information website also says suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 in the United States.
As parents, how do we prevent depression in our teens? And what do we do if they are already developing depression symptoms?
The best place to start is at home. There are many things parents can do at home to positively affect their children’s lives and help prevent or resolve depression symptoms early.
Use simple techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy
A simple description our therapists use in session with clients to explain cognitive behavioral therapy is if you can change the way you think, you can change the way you feel. According to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists provide more detail to that description: "Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things like people, situations and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel/act better even if the situation does not change."
A couple of CBT techniques you could use are:
- Problem-solving: Help your child come up with solutions to problems they face. Many teens suffering from 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 a set amount of time to work on homework.
- Challenge pessimistic thinking: Highlight and help your child understand and question negative thought patterns. For example, a teen might start thinking in terms of all or nothing (i.e. “I am a weirdo because I said something weird”). Help them see that one instance cannot define them. They are a normal and good person who made one mistake.
Implement simple health changes
Increase physical activity and exercise.The Mayo Clinic suggests that increased activity helps your brain release "feel good" neurotransmitters and also taking your mind off some of life's stressors. They also say it can help you gain confidence, get more social interactions and cope in healthy ways.
Get a developmentally appropriate amount of sleep. In his experience working with teens, family therapist Devin Stong, AMFT, suggests the right amount of sleep is a little over nine hours. He refers to a great article from the Child Mind Institute that suggests if our teenagers don't get enough sleep, they have a tendency to be tired, groggy and even ornery the following day.
Additionally, Stong reports that not getting enough sleep could throw your brain's chemistry out of whack, which could have lasting effects on our children. He goes on to say that many of the benefits of adequate sleep are obvious, but it will also boost our immune system, increase short-term memory, and help us wake rested and motivated.
Reduce stressors and increase coping skills. You can reduce your teen's load to reduce stress. Some stress-reducing techniques include taking deep breaths, meditation, being present, reaching out, etc. A good one to start with is deep breaths: Breathe in for 4 seconds and hold it; then breathe out for 4 seconds. Repeat.
Simply put, be present and aware of your children and their struggles. Increase their ability to cope with life by 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.
- Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
- Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
- Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
Contributing: Devin Stong, a marriage and family specialist at Tree of Life Counseling, contributed to this article.