Preventing Adolescent Depression
Adolescence can be a very difficult time, and it can be worse if depression takes hold. Experts believe that 1 in 8 teens battle depression. So, what’s a parent to do? While there are some factors that are out of a teen’s control – like genetics or traumatic life experiences – there are many other factors that teens can manage, with your guidance and support. A new study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders offered a list of strategies that adults can use to help teens stay mentally healthy:
Promote a Healthy Lifestyle
Our physical and mental health are intertwined. A healthy diet, exercise, and plenty of sleep have a major impact on our state of mind, and research shows that establishing healthy habits in eating, sleeping and moving can actually help prevent or reduce depression. Ways to promote a healthy lifestyle to your teen are:
- Role model good eating, physical activity, and sleeping habits.
- Be creative in encouraging exercise. If your teen doesn’t want to participate in sports, help them find activities they enjoy, such as going for a walk, swimming, skateboarding, or riding a bike.
- Provide healthy foods at meals, limit the amount of junk food available at home, discuss nutrition, and make a habit of eating together as a family. An overweight child has a 70 to 80 percent chance of staying overweight as an adult.
- Adolescents with bedtimes at midnight or later were 25% more likely to suffer from depression compared with adolescents who had bedtimes of 10 p.m. or earlier.
- Limit your teen’s screen time. Excessive electronics discourage exercise, sleep, and developing healthy relationships.
Teach Coping Skills
Everyone faces problems in their daily lives. People who learn to deal with these problems in a healthy manner are happier and more successful than those who don’t. Parents should teach teens now how to cope with stress and difficulties so that they are prepared for adulthood. Youth who learn to handle worry, fear, and sadness are less likely to become depressed. Healthy coping skills include problem-solving, talking to a trusted confidant, and engaging in relaxation activities. For more specific ideas, please read our previous blog: Developing Coping Skills in Teens.
Teens who are not taught methods for coping with stress are more likely to turn unhealthy strategies, such as drugs and alcohol, violence or self-harm, excessive electronics use, eating disorders, or other risky behaviors. It’s important for you to tell your teen that, although these methods may provide them with temporary relief, they will likely contribute to additional stress, more problems and long-term mental health issues.
Instill Strong Communication Skills
Healthy communication can prevent a lot of problems, but it is not a skill that comes naturally to many people, especially this generation of teens that tends to communicate mostly through texting and social media. Teens who can communicate in a respectful manner, make eye contact, use humor to diffuse tense situations, and avoid putting others down are much more likely to be successful than teens who do not learn these skills. One of the best ways you can help your child is to teach them assertiveness skills. Read our previous blog to learn how: 5 Ways Parents Can Teach Assertiveness to Teens.
Cultivate a Positive Self-Image
Most adolescents struggle with their self-image, which is why it’s so common to see them trying on different identities and trying to fit in with their peers. It can be difficult to fight the unhealthy messages our youth hear from the media and their peers, but it’s worth the battle because insecure teens are much more likely to struggle with mental health issues. As a parent, you can work to combat media messages and boost your teen’s confidence. For example, you can talk to your teen about the tactics advertisers use to sell products and the harsh realities that underweight models experience. For more specific ideas to help your teen develop a positive self-esteem, please read our previous blogs: Help Teens Develop a Healthy Body Image and How Your Teen Can Silence Their Inner Critic.
Support Healthy Relationships
We are social creatures, so relationships with friends and family are vital to our mental health. Studies show that healthy relationships reduce a teen’s risk of depression, while unhealthy relationships increase the risk. You should take steps to build a positive relationship with your teen. For specific ideas, please read our previous blog: Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Teen. In addition, it’s important to support your teen’s friendships. While it can be hard to watch your teen spend more time with their peers and assert their independence from you, this is an important step in their development. You can find ideas on friendship guidance you can offer your teen in our previous blog: Building Teen’s Social Skills with Friends.
Encourage Fun Activities
This may seem obvious, but your teen needs fun in their life to avoid becoming depressed. Sometimes we can be so busy in our own lives that we forget we need to ensure our children have exciting activities in their lives, too. Encourage your teen to experiment with a variety of activities to determine his/her interests and talents, and then, make time for these activities in your family’s schedule. Whether your teen likes to play board games with friends, participate on the school sports team, or take a class in photography, scheduling fun into your teen’s life will boost his/her mood and help prevent depression.