Lets face it – Covid has taken a psychological toll on all of us. Many of us experienced the loss of a loved one, a friend, or a family member. Several people became part of the Country’s unemployment statistics all the while living in fear of contracting the virus. In addition, the sudden isolation contributed to an extremely challenging time. We’re not out of the woods quite yet and adults continue to take strain but where has it left our vulnerable teens? Are they OK?
Overnight these young people had to adjust to a new way of living. A new “norm”. Suddenly they were no longer attending school, seeing their friends, or participating and looking forward to school activities. Traditions like matric farewells and sporting events became redundant. Youth became confined to their homes. Their lives came to an abrupt standstill.
Many teens are resilient and navigate through this transition healthily, but there are those who may have experienced loss, not only physical but psychological isolation leading to depression. Teens rely on their friendships to maintain a sense of self-worth, and to manage anxiety and depression. Although the online world became huge during this time through social media, the all-important “natural connection” they had with their peers and teachers was lost.
When last did you check in with your teen to determine how the pandemic affected him/her?
Experiencing sadness is part of a teenager’s life. Being discouraged and feeling low as a result of heartbreak or an argument with a friend, or doing poorly in a test, or not making a sports team is normal. It’s disappointing and once the negative emotion has been processed, the feeling dissipates. This should not be confused with depression! Depression is a mood disorder, which outlines feelings of sadness, loss, or anger that interfere with a person’s everyday activities. How long depression lasts depends on lifestyle influences and whether or not you receive treatment. It can last for several weeks, months, or years.
Symptoms of Depression
- Lack of energy, restlessness, or difficulty sleeping
- Loss of pleasure or interest in activities that they once enjoyed
- Anxiety, anger, irritability
- Difficulty concentrating, organizing, or remembering
- Negative views about the world, negative feelings, moods, and thinking
- Feelings of guilt, shame, or worthlessness
- Drastic changes in appetite or weight
- Avoiding and withdrawal from friends and family
- Self-mutilation, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts
- Physical symptoms like headaches or upset stomachs
- Reckless behaviour, problems at school, or smartphone addiction
How to Help Your Teen
If left untreated, depression can gradually worsen and lead to significant damage for your teen. Should you suspect that your teen may be suffering from depression, it needs to be approached in a loving way. Create a safe environment where you can discuss what symptoms you are observing and why they concern you. Try not to ask too many questions as a teen will feel patronized or crowded. Ask them to share what they are feeling and what they are going through.
Focus on listening and resist the urge to pass judgment. This young person needs to feel supported and that they are in a safe environment of unconditional love.
Be gentle yet persistent (without forcing your teen) and discuss what they are feeling. It’s not easy for a teenager to express their inner turmoil, therefore, keep the pace at a level where they are comfortable.
Acknowledge their feelings and don’t diminish them as being irrational or silly. Well-meaning statements like “things are not as bad” will come across as not taking their feelings seriously. Acknowledge their pain and sadness as something true for them. Trust your instinct and follow your intuitive insight, even if they claim that nothing is wrong. You know your child best, and if you’re unsure, consider involving a trusted third party like a school teacher to observe them.
Tips on Helping Your Depressed Teen
- Encourage Social Interaction And Connection:
Depressed teens will withdraw from their friends and social events which they previously enjoyed. Laughing with friends and doing fun activities will lighten their mood. Invite their friends over and organize family events and encourage them to participate in charity events, volunteering at shelters, or attending social or sports events.
- Make Physical Health a Priority:
Physical and mental health go hand-in-hand. Motivate your teen to exercise as it’s essential to mental health. If they don’t enjoy the usual exercise like running or cycling, become creative and ask them to walk the dog, skateboard, dance, or go for a hike. Ideally, they need to move for an hour a day.
Ensure they are eating nutritional balanced meals that include healthy fats, quality protein, and fresh produce. Try limiting takeaways or excessive sugary foods. Implement limits on screen time and encourage enough sleep and rest.
- Know When To Seek Professional Help:
Although encouraging a healthy lifestyle and interaction with friends, it might not be enough. In severe cases of depression don’t wait to seek professional help. Keep your teen motivated and engaged in the treatment, involve them in the decision process and in choosing a specialist. Be open to listening to what they feel can work for them, being it the school counselor, a minister, a life coach, or a psychologist. They must feel comfortable with that person to form a connection. Explore different treatment options and discuss how each treatment can benefit them or how certain treatments like antidepressants can have certain side effects.
- Support Your Teen Through The Depression Treatment:
Your teen needs to know that you are supporting them through the process without judgment. They need to feel understood, accepted, valued, and cared for. Be patient and understanding and acknowledge their feelings. You might feel exhausted, overwhelmed, or in despair, but you need to be strong. Remain involved in the treatment and attend the therapy sessions. Track their progress and ensure that your teen is following the specialist’s instructions. Celebrate the small victories and don’t judge yourself.
- Take Care Of Yourself And The Rest Of The Family:
Have your own support system in place. Don’t bottle up emotions. Talk to a trusted friend or specialist. Look after your health as this stressful situation can harm your health. Exercise, eat healthily and get enough sleep. Be transparent with the rest of the family about the treatment. Take care of the other siblings and make time for family and doing the things that you all enjoy. Make time for yourself too and refrain from blaming yourself.
Depression is a real condition especially for teenagers, but with the correct treatment, the symptoms can be successfully managed.
Sit with your teenager today to check in on how they are feeling about the Covid-19 pandemic or any other loss that they experienced, like social connection, a parent, sibling, friend, or family member.
Should you notice or experience any of the types of symptoms mentioned above in your teen and should your teen need a coach to assist them with the treatment of the following symptoms, including but not limited to sadness, lack of motivation, or self-esteem issues, please feel free to contact me.
Debbie Hartmann, Life, Relationship and Teen Coach @ My Kinda Life Coaching.