Depression is one of the most common medical conditions in Singapore, with an estimated 5.6% of the population being affected by it in their lifetime. While figures on teen depression are unavailable, it stands to reason that young people grapple with this mood disorder as well. A moody teenager experiencing emotional highs and lows is certainly not a novel phenomenon. Thus, it's important for parents to be able to distinguish between teenage mood swings and depression which can have a serious effect on their child.
Recognising the Signs and Symptoms
While there are different types of depression, there are some major common markers to look out for:
- A deep-rooted sadness and/or irritability. This may be accompanied by disproportionately negative reactions to situations and angry outbursts.
- Withdrawal and isolation. The child may lose interest in their hobbies and friends, spending most of their time alone. Often, academic performance will decline as the child retreats into him or herself.
- Anxiety and a sense of hopelessness and negative perceptions of one self. The child may be highly self-critical.
- Fatigue and extreme lethargy.
- Physical symptoms may also manifest themselves in various forms, including insomnia, extreme changes in appetite, headaches and anxiety attacks.
If you spot these indicators in your child, don't hesitate in getting them help; if left untreated, depression can lead to self-harming, at-risk behaviours and suicidal tendencies. The family unit is often a core support system for individuals battling depression.
Here are some strategies to help you, as you help your child.
Seek Professional Support
Depression is a well-documented mental illness, and needs to be treated with the same level of gravity if the child were physically ill. Just as you would see a doctor for a physical illness, meet with a counselor or family psychologist who is experienced in the treatment and care of teenagers with depression. They will be able to suggest treatment options that would suit your child, and provide support for your teen and the family as you journey together.
Lend a Listening Ear
It's important to recognize that you can't talk or cajole your teenager out of his or her depression. Instead, encourage them to express themselves, and listen without judgement. As you do so, you validate your child’s feelings, which can be immensely reassuring for them in such a trying time.
Conversations with your teen are also an opportunity to boost their self-esteem and self-worth. Focus your comments on their areas of strength and effort, rather than comparing them with others.
Get Active Together
Studies have shown that exercise can help to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety to some extent. Regular exercise helps to release 'feel-good' chemicals in the brain such as neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids. Schedule daily time to get active with your teenager - taking walks, going for regular runs, or playing a quick game of soccer or basketball can help your child feel better, and also provide you both with an opportunity for deeper conversations.
Depression is a serious illness, and early intervention and support can be an immense help. Even as you tend to your teenager's needs, do remember to make time for other members of the family, as well as self-care. Often, weathering tough situations can be extremely difficult for families - but this is also an opportunity for the family to pull together, support one another and be more resilient over time.
Copyright © 2016. Focus on the Family Singapore Ltd.
If someone you love is battling with depression, contact us at Focus on the Family Singapore at 64910700 or via our website here, to make an appointment with a counselor.