Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression: Part 2
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Suicide warning signs in depressed teens
Seriously depressed teens, especially those who also abuse alcohol or drugs, often think about, speak of, or make attempts at suicide—and an alarming and increasing number are successful. So it’s vital that you take any suicidal thoughts or behaviors very seriously. They’re a cry for help from your teen.
Suicide warning signs to watch for
- Talking or joking about committing suicide
- Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out”
- Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”)
- Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide
- Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
- Giving away prized possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for the last time
- Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves
How to help a depressed teenager
Depression is very damaging when left untreated, so don’t wait and hope that worrisome symptoms will go away. If you suspect that your teen is depressed, bring up your concerns in a loving, non-judgmental way. Even if you’re unsure that depression is the issue, the troublesome behaviors and emotions you’re seeing are signs of a problem that should be addressed.
Open up a dialogue by letting your teen know what specific depression symptoms you’ve noticed and why they worry you. Then ask your child to share what they’re going through—and be ready and willing to truly listen. Hold back from asking a lot of questions (most teenagers don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.
How to communicate with a depressed teen
Focus on listening, not lecturing. Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. You’ll do the most good by simply letting your teen know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally.
Be gentle but persistent. Don’t give up if they shut you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Even if they want to, they may have a hard time expressing what they’re feeling. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.
Acknowledge their feelings. Don’t try to talk your teen out of depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Well-meaning attempts to explain why “things aren’t that bad” will just come across as if you don’t take their emotions seriously. Simply acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel understood and supported.
Trust your gut. If your teen claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation for what is causing the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts. If your teen won’t open up to you, consider turning to a trusted third party: a school counselor, favorite teacher, or a mental health professional. The important thing is to get them talking to someone.