Adults who have depression find it difficult to deal with the symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite and guilt while bearing the weight of the world on their shoulders. Children who don’t have the capacity to deal with emotions and who struggle to reach out for support can find it even more difficult to cope with a mental illness such as depression. It is important that children and young adults – as well as their parents – learn how to live with depression. Below are five ways to help children and young adults cope with depression.
1. Be their safety net
As a parent, it’s important to firstly recognize that your child or teenager is suffering from depression. Look for symptoms of declining school performance, such as dropping grades, fatigue, and warning signs such as regular routines that are being disrupted. If you suspect that your child is suffering from depression or has suicidal tendencies, seek help immediately. Consult a professional and find out how you can support your child. Be sure to lock away any medicine, weapons or alcohol at all times.
2. Establish healthy routines
If your child has been diagnosed with depression, it is important to maintain healthy routines that help to ensure enough sleep and encourage physical wellness. A healthy diet can sometimes ease symptoms associated with depression such as fatigue, insomnia and stress. Limiting exposure to technology and harmful social media influences is an important step towards protecting your child’s mental health. Encourage your child to socialize in environments that you know are stable and safe.
3. Spend quality time with your child
Children and teenagers who are feeling depressed tend to withdraw from their environment and seek isolation from family and friends. When this happens, continue to make your support known by being present and by offering support and encouragement. Celebrate small victories with them on their good days and be there for their bad days – even if this means just letting them know that you are present and ready to talk at any time. These tips on how to spend quality time with your kids offer great ideas for showing your support in subtle yet effective ways.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is generally the first line, evidence based psychotherapy for depression; in mild depression, it may be used alone; in moderate to severe depression, it is usually combined with other interventions such as medications. Other therapies that have been shown to be helpful for depression include dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT). Antidepressants may be recommended for children or teens suffering from moderate to severe depression that is significantly impairing their functioning.
5. Take care of yourself
Educating yourself about your child or teenager’s condition is important in helping them recover from depression. At the same time, it is also important to take care of your own needs. A healthy parent who takes care of the family and themselves is essential to creating a stable environment. Maintaining a healthy eating routine, getting enough sleep and regular exercise – in which the whole family can be involved, such as taking a long walk or playing some active games together – sets a great example and encourages children and teenagers with depression to get involved. Finding a peer group of parents who are going through similar experiences can be helpful for all the family as they cope with supporting a child or teenager affected by depression.
See our additional resources on depression and mental health.