While I'm going to share ways to help teens with anxiety and depression, I'm not a professional nor do I have extensive experience with this topic outside of my personal experience, my experience with my kids, and my experience with friend's kids. The best way to help teens with mental health issues is to get them – and yourself – counseling.
Ways to Help Teens With Anxiety and Depression
You may have noticed a sudden change in your teens mood. They’re lashing out more or they’re eerily quiet. They don’t open up to you much about anything anymore and you may not know why. They seem to get nervous but try to hid it. Your teen may be suffering from anxiety and/or depression. You may find that you ask yourself “Is this normal?” or “What can I do?” Below are 5 ways to help you help your teen battle anxiety and depression.
Depression and Anxiety Symptoms in Teens
While depression and anxiety are very different, many times they go hand in hand. If you have one, you may have both. I personally have had experience with both and at least two of my three daughters have as well. Looking for signs of depression and anxiety in teens can be difficult. The teen years are already tough; your kids may not talk to you as much as they used to and that can be totally normal. When it becomes excessive or a huge change (more on that later), that's when it's time to get them help.
Notice Any Changes
You may have have noticed subtle or not so subtle changes in your child’s mood. They’ve become secretive, withdrawn, and maybe even started lashing out at you and everyone else. As a parent and/or guardian, you have to be able to spot these warning signs.
If caught early enough, you can help your teen to work through whatever is making them feel sad or angry. You are your child’s first line of defense when it comes to their mental health. If they don’t know what’s going on, you have to try and figure it out.
It is important that you do not ignore these signs. You may think they’re just going through their teenage rebellious phase when it is something much, much worse.
Pro tip: If you do happen to notice these signs and you have already spoken to your child and they respond with something to the effect of, “Nothing, I’m fine,” and you know they are not, you can see something is on their mind and bothering them, keep on them about it. Ask them every day until they talk to you. If they are pulling away even after you've kept on them, it's time to talk to a counselor sooner rather than later.
Most often, teenagers don’t think their parents care as much as they think they do so they are less likely to come to you about matters like these. If you show that you are concerned and really want to know what’s going on, they’ll more than likely open up to you. Don't nag them! But let them know you care.
If this doesn’t work, maybe try asking your teen if they would want to see a therapist. Don’t force them to go, make sure you ask for their opinion because their opinion does matter. If your teen refuses counseling, you going to counseling can help. It will help them see that it's “normal”, and your counselor can help with ideas on how to deal with your depressed teen.
Don’t Belittle Their Feelings
Don’t belittle their feelings. If you find yourself constantly telling your teen to, “Get over it,” they will be less likely to come to you about your problems. You are effectively telling them that their feelings do not matter and are not serious enough to warrant any type of response from you.
Do not do this. It will make them feel worse and may cause them to become more withdrawn, angsty, and cause other more serious symptoms to arise.
You want to make sure your teen knows their feelings matter, because they do. They’re still at that age where they don’t know how to process their emotions or feelings. As their parent and/or guardian, it is your job to make sure they can come to you so that you can help them.
Even if your teen does not want to talk, let them know that their feelings matter to you and that when they are ready, you are ready to listen and offer support. If/when they do come to you, put your phone away and listen!
What Triggers Their Symptoms?
Find about what triggers your teen's depression or anxiety symptoms.
Be perceptive. If your notice you raising your voice makes your teen have an anxiety attack, notice this and find different ways to get your point across. If it’s crowds, pull your teen to a less crowded place. I got Nell a pair of headphones to use when we are in public. She doesn't even play music most of the time, but just having the headphones in her ears helps lower her anxiety.
In cases like these, your teen might not even really realize what is going on, so it is up to you to notice the little things that trigger your child’s symptoms. Talk to them about it if you have noticed it and try to come up with a plan, together, to try and figure out how to minimize the attacks.
You can’t have your child living in fear of crowds or people raising their voice, there are crowds everywhere and people yelling and screaming for and about various things every day. Research methods that may help your child if they ever find themself in a situation that they know to cause an attack.
Help Them Work Through It
It is important that every step of the way, whether your child is seeing a therapist or you are trying your best to help at home, that you help them work through it.
Showing your support will help your teenager. It lets them know that you do care and that you are rooting for them to manage their anxiety and/or depression in a healthy way.
Don’t force your teen to do things they don’t want to do. This is important. It will be a huge set-back to any progress made if you start forcing them to hang out with people or go see a therapist. Teens are smart and will figure out ways to make adults believe that nothing is wrong and everything is fine when in actuality it is the opposite.
Do your own research. You don’t have to play an active role to help your teen work through their problems. You can do little things that you know make them happy to try and make their day just a little bit better.
Let Them Know They Can Confide in You
Your teen should know they can confide in you. Be open and responsive. Let them know early on that you are not here to judge them or their feelings. Again, PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN. I'm guilty of this at times, half-listening because I have work to do. Work can wait. Facebook can wait. Put the phone down and listen.
Don’t let your teen bottle up their feelings because they feel like they can’t talk to you. It will lead to explosive results that are not good for anybody.
Again, you are their first line of defense.
Be their safe haven; a place of no judgment where your teen can freely express themselves with no fear of retribution.
It is really important that your child is able to come to you about their feelings. If they can’t come to you first, who else can they turn to? Trust me when I say the teens or other adults they will turn to are not going to have their best interest in mind like you will.
If you have experienced any of the same anxiety or depression symptoms, have a conversation with them about your experiences. Tell them about what you did, what you felt and what helped you work through your problems. When I talk about my anxiety and depression experiences, I try to relate it to something my kids have gone through as well. If you don't have any experience with anxiety or depression, chances are your teen will dismiss most of what you say. My girls have both said they don't talk to people about anxiety unless those people have experienced it as well. If you don't have those experiences, just listen… and find another trusted adult to help talk to them, too.
They may not be receptive in the beginning but it could help them later down the road. Even if they don't seem receptive, they're listening to what you're saying.
The key here is to empathize not necessarily sympathize. Your teen might not want your sympathy but if you know how they feel, they may be more willing to come forth and be vocal about what is bothering them since they know that you, too, have gone through the same situations.
The bottom line: pay attention to the all of the warning signs, talk to your teen, provide a safe space for them to talk about their feelings, and never ever make them feel like their feelings are on the back burner.
Do your research, give your child access to any available resources, and make sure they know that they’re not alone in their struggle and you are there to help them for as long as possible and in any way that they need.
Tips from Jenelle
These tips are from Jenelle. She is 17, and has dealt with anxiety and depression for a while. She also has PTSD because of the crazy neighbor. She wants to share some tips with you.
Don't let them be alone. If they're depressed, they could be suicidal… and it literally takes less than a minute to kill yourself so if you can help it, don't let your depressed teen be alone. This one is tough because teens want their space, but it's important to keep a close eye on them without making it too obvious.
Put effort into your relationship with them but don't push it on them. They probably already feel insecure so you don't want them to think you're just asking how they are because you “have” to as a parent.
Suggest a hobby or sport for them. Kids are less likely to be depressed if they are involved in team sports and kept busy with practices and games. This goes for band, art class, etc as well. They also have a support system with their team mates, so they always have someone to talk to.
Monitor their eating and hydration. Many teenagers will feel the only thing they can control is what they put in/out of their bodies. Because of this, and because of self-image issues, they may stop eating, drinking, or will throw up after they eat. This is another issue entirely and should definitely be taken seriously.
Check for cuts. If your child has friends who cut, or have a history of cutting, they may be cutting as well – or tempted to. Without making them strip naked, just make sure you're aware of their bodies and how they are changing. If you notice scratches or cuts, ask them about it without being accusing. If they start wearing long sleeves all the time when they didn't before, or they stop wearing shorts or tanks all together all of the sudden, that may be a sign of cutting. Don't freak out on them, because they will just cut in other areas (thighs, feet, etc). Keep calm and talk to them about it. Open communication is the only thing that will help.
Don't ask “what makes you depressed?” because they. don't. know. If I knew why I was depressed, I'd fix it!
Don't force them to get a job. If they're experiencing anxiety, forcing them to get a job can set them back. Instead of forcing them to get a job when they turn 16, think about other ways for your teen to make money – either from home or in a smaller work environment (like babysitting, office work, etc). Anxiety isn't a “free pass” to get away with everything or be lazy by any means, but your teen will need counseling – and your support – to be able to be successful at any job.
Talk to them about options other than public school. I am doing online schooling and it's helped me get a handle on my anxiety and depression without having the stress of going to “regular” school every day. Sometimes this is a good option.
Listen to what they want. If they are crying and they say “leave me alone”, let them breathe and give them a chance to think about what's going on. On the other hand, they may want you to listen to them or they may want to vent… so let them, without judgment. Don't get on your high horse and start preaching when they vent about whatever it is that's bother them. They need you to listen, not judge or preach or try to change them.
Don't invalidate their feelings. “It isn't the end of the world” isn't something your anxious or depressed teen needs to hear. In that moment, during the panic attack or depressive episode, it is the end of the world for them. Again, just listen and be supportive.
Don't try to “fix” all of their problems. Your teen needs to be given resources so they can work through their own problems rather than you handling them all. You can help them, and guide them, but don't baby them too much. They are almost adults at this age and you will do more harm than good if you coddle them.
Consider alternative treatments. These aromatherapy pens have helped with my anxiety and I recommend them any time someone tells me they get anxious. I also have my medical marijuana card that helps with my nausea and anxiety. CBD oil can help too but there are TOO many fakes… so check out Charlotte's Web first. If your teen comes to you and is asking to use alternative treatments, don't shut them down completely. Again, listen.
Resources for Depressed Teens
I tried Free Online Therapy and I recommend it. Check it out as a parent, and recommend it to your teen if you like it.
Reduce anxiety with bullet journaling.
1-800-662-HELP SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
If you suspect that a teenager is suicidal, take immediate action! For 24-hour suicide prevention and support in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. To find a suicide helpline outside the U.S., visit IASP or Suicide.org.