Posts

Your teen has been much more quiet and withdrawn lately. They aren’t very talkative, are easily agitated and their mood has consistently been down. The big question in your mind is, “Is my teen depressed?”

The teen years are filled with highs and lows, so much so that it often feels like being on a roller coaster ride in the dark with lots of twists and turns, none of which you see coming. In a word, these years can be full of turbulence.

With all of the change going on, it is sometimes hard for parents to know if their teen is just going through a rough patch or if something bigger is going on like depression.

Approximately 1 in 5 teens from all walks of life will experience depression at some point during their teen years, which can be very scary for parents. In many instances teens themselves don’t understand what is going on, why they feel the way they do or even how to talk about what they are experiencing.

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of teen depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters
  • Feeling hopeless or empty
  • Irritable or annoyed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite—decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Agitation or restlessness—for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse
  • Social isolation
  • Poor school performance or frequent absences from school
  • Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
  • Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors
  • Self-harm—for example, cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing
  • Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt

When a teen is depressed, they can’t “just snap out of it.” But, there are things parents can do to help kids decipher their feelings and determine the best next steps. If a significant number of symptoms are present for two weeks, this is a good indication that it is time to reach out for help from a professional.

Things You Can Do If You Believe Your Teen Might Be Struggling With Depression

It may help to open the door to constructive conversation and let them know that if they are struggling with this, they can share with you.

Listen intently.

Avoid lecturing, as in, “If you would just…” It may be hard because they can be moody, but seek to be present and listen to what is going on in their world if they are willing to share with you. If they tell you how bad things are, avoid making statements like, “I think you are blowing things out of proportion” or “It really isn’t that bad.” Remember that perception is everything and even though you may feel like their perception is not accurate, this is their reality and understanding this is the starting point for being able to help them.

One other thing that might be helpful here—sometimes teens find it easier to talk about something difficult when they are doing something. Shooting hoops, running, taking a hike, doing yard work, cooking or anything that doesn’t make them have direct eye contact with you and gives them something to do with their hands while they are trying to share with you works. 

Encourage exercise, eating right, getting enough rest and being outdoors.

All of these things help to combat depression.

Acknowledge their feelings.

You don’t have to agree with them, but you do need to acknowledge them. When a teen is depressed they often feel like they are trying to slog through mud and fog. It’s hard to pinpoint feelings because everything feels “blah.” When they are able to pinpoint an emotion, validate it and work to keep the conversation going.

Avoid telling them what to do to “fix” the situation they are in.

Instead, ask them what they think they need to do. If they ask you for your thoughts, that’s the time to give some input. However, don’t give not too much because they can become overwhelmed quickly.

Work to help them avoid isolation and increase face time.

This is especially hard with COVID-19 factors at play. Be intentional about creating family time and encourage (don’t force) them to participate. Exercise with them. Look for activities they enjoy and do those things with them.

Limit screen time.

Many parents are tired of trying to take on this battle, but there is plenty of research indicating that lots of screen time can lead to depression. A recent study suggests that greater screen time—whether in the form of computers, cell phones, or tablets—may have contributed to a spike in depression and suicide-related behaviors and thoughts among American teens, particularly girls, between 2010 and 2015. Several studies show that when teens reluctantly agreed to give up screens for a week, they confessed at the end that they felt so much better without them.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

As the parent, it is important to trust your gut if you feel your teen is depressed. If you don’t feel like anything you are doing is helping, seek assistance. You can go see someone or find someone for your teen to talk to. Having a depressed teen does not reflect poorly on you and your parenting skills. Adolescence is terribly complicated. Quarantine, COVID-19, no school, no summer camps or other activities has made it very hard on teens who are typically super social in nature.

Dealing with depression in your teen can be exhausting on multiple levels. Not only are you interacting with your teen and questioning whether or not you are doing the right thing, but thoughts about what you are experiencing can consume every moment of your day and sometimes the night. Walking this road can feel isolating and lonely, so it is important to surround yourself with supportive people, seek help for yourself, educate yourself and take time away to regroup. 

Image from Unsplash.com

Cyberbullying has been a hot topic for years. But when all of us, young and old, were thrust in front of our screens due to COVID-19, the experts warned we could see an uptick in this behavior—especially among young people. 

Sure enough, we are six months into the pandemic and Google Trends is seeing an 80% increase in parents searching for help in dealing with cyberbullying. According to a Digital Trends piece that came out in April about Cyberbullying and Distance Learning, research indicated a 70% increase in cyberbullying among kids in the first weeks of social distancing. Statistics indicate that roughly 50%-60% of kids have been cyberbullied. 

Just so we are clear about what we are talking about, let’s define it. Cyberbullying is using any type of digital platform to scare, harass, shame, embarrass, hurt or threaten another person.

With everyone online right now, there are lots of easy targets and the stakes are high. Some kids are taking their own lives because of it, and many others are dealing with anxiety and depression as a result. If you know what to look for and have some precautions in place, you have a much better chance of intervening before the situation takes a tragic turn.

The big question is, what can parents do to address this problem?

If you notice a change in your child’s behavior or disposition, pay attention. Here is a list of 10 signs your child might be the victim of cyberbullying:

  • Appears nervous when receiving a text, instant message or email.
  • Seems uneasy about going to school or pretends to be ill
  • Unwillingness to share information about online activity
  • Abruptly shutting off or walking away from the computer mid-use
  • Withdrawing from friends and family in real life
  • Unexplained stomach aches or headaches
  • Trouble sleeping at night
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts 

Now that summer is here, your kids don’t need to be on their screens as much. Deciding how much time you allow your children to use their screens and standing by it can be benefit the entire family. Screen Strong has a 7 Day ScreenStrong Challenge you might find helpful. Think of it as a seven-day cleanse for your entire family to help them kick off the summer.

Once you have completed the cleanse, set the tone for the rest of the summer. Have a family meeting about expectations moving forward when it comes to screen time. Parents say they struggle with this the most because it causes such a huge uproar in the home. 

Think of it like this. When you tell your child to hold your hand to cross the street and they throw themselves on the ground and pitch a fit because they don’t want to hold your hand, you don’t respond by saying, “Ok, you don’t have to hold my hand. Just be careful.” You get your child off the ground and tell them, “You are holding my hand. Period.” It doesn’t matter how big a tantrum they throw, you aren’t going to give in. Why? Because you know the street could be very dangerous. For older teens, it would be like putting them behind the steering wheel with no training and telling them to be careful.

Limits Are Important

Screens have a great place in this world. However, without limits or set expectations, they can negatively impact your children and the entire family for that matter. To create structure around screen usage, be very clear about what appropriate online behavior looks like and define cyberbullying for them. The goal is to create an environment where it is abundantly clear that cyberbullying will not be tolerated. It’s vital that you let them know what to do if they think they are being cyberbullied. Working through this together can strengthen your relationship, too.

Create a schedule of things your kids can do instead of being on their screens. For example, reading is one of the best things they can do to increase their vocabulary and build their imagination. Exercise, getting outside or even doing things inside to get their heart rate up and create some sweat can do wonders for decreasing stress and anxiety along with elevating their mood. Look for activities you can do together as a family. Find ways for your kids to meaningfully contribute to your family and the lives of others who may need help with things like mowing their lawn, weeding their gardens, walking the dog and such. First Things First has a 30 Day Family Activity Challenge you might find helpful.

It’s OK to Ask for Help.

If you do not see change in a positive direction, you may want to seek professional help to deal with this situation. Also, encourage your kids to talk with other trusted adults in their life besides you. Honestly, sometimes it’s just hard to talk with your parents about certain things.*

These are complicated times for sure. As parents, our role is to lead—even when our children don’t appreciate the direction and structure we are giving them. A child or teen’s ability to assess their wellbeing is extremely limited due to their prefrontal cortex not being developed. Instead of being intimidated when it comes to doing what you know is in your child’s best interest to help them thrive, let them know that you get how hard this time is and that you are for them. While they may act like they don’t care about being in relationship with you, don’t be fooled. Knowing that you care, love them unconditionally and are there to listen is powerful—and although they may not acknowledge it—rest assured, they notice.

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357); National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Image from Unsplash.com

I’ll admit that I’m kind of a news junkie. I want to hear the latest about COVID-19 as well as everything else that is going on. I hear the numbers, listen to interviews with Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx and others. I see the never-ending lines of cars waiting to pick up food at food banks. I hear about job loss, farmers throwing out crops because they have nowhere to send them, people who are quarantining by themselves and are lonely, marriages and families struggling because they are spending so much time together and more. There is no doubt that right now, feelings of depression and COVID-19 are related.

Day after day I am filling my mind with all of this and I realize, the intensity of this is impacting me in so many ways and we are nowhere near the end. Honestly, it’s straight-up depressing and I am mentally feeling the impact of it all.

Honestly, it’s hard for any of us to go through the level of emotional, social and financial trauma we are experiencing and not be impacted.

The environmental and adjustment stress we are all feeling can be overwhelming, so much so that some of us may find ourselves in a place we’ve never been before when it comes to our mental health. 

You may also be feeling a bit different these days and wondering what in the heck is going on. Maybe it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, your energy level is non-existent, you aren’t hungry or you eat all the time, your nerves seem frazzled or it’s hard to think clearly because your brain feels like it’s in a fog. Believe it or not, all of these things are normal responses to a severe crisis, which is what we are in the middle of. The thing we have to ask ourselves is, what can I do to feel better? 

How about trying these things out?

9 Tips to Improve Your Well-Being

  • Go for a walk or get some other type of exercise for self-care. Doing some sort of physical activity on a daily basis can make a major difference in the way you feel and function. There are lots of free workout apps and online options.
  • Spend time in the sun soaking in vitamin D. This is one of the most powerful ways to boost your mood. The fresh air will be good for you, too.
  • Get yourself on a schedule. Even though you may not be working or leaving the house, staying on your normal sleep schedule, getting up in the morning, taking a shower, getting dressed, eating at consistent times and then doing something constructive can help your brain function better. 
  • Phone a friend. While we need to physically distance ourselves from others, socially isolating ourselves is not a good thing. Technology allows us to connect with the ones we love face to face. Talking with neighbors across the fence or street can also be helpful. We are made for relationships and need them to thrive.
  • Watch movies or shows that are funny and make you laugh. Believe it or not, laughter can actually protect you from the damaging effects of stress and help you feel better. Humor helps us release anger, have hope, and be more focused and alert.
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Do your best to eat balanced meals. Try to avoid overeating or not eating enough. That can be difficult given the circumstances, but fresh/frozen fruit and vegetables are great choices if you can buy them. Drinking water has tons of health benefits, too.
  • Limit your alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and news intake. If you are struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety, these things can make you feel worse.
  • Make time to journal. Writing down your feelings, fears, thoughts and emotions can help you take control of all that is running through your head. Sometimes what appears overwhelming in your mind, doesn’t seem so much so when you actually look at it on paper.
  • Ask for help.* Don’t let pride or fear keep you from seeking help to get past this moment in time. What we are going through is hard. If you are having trouble navigating through this time, ask for what you need. Plenty of doctors and counselors are seeing people through Zoom and other ways. 

This Is Not Easy!

It’s normal for all of us to be feeling some ways about this COVID-19 thing. It is highly likely that none of us will come through this unscathed in some way. If you get to a place or you are already in a place where how you are feeling is impacting your ability to function and accomplish simple daily tasks, that’s when you know it’s time to get some help. 

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357); National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Image from Unsplash.com

It’s week five and you are trying to hold things together, but you feel like your spouse may be depressed during COVID-19.

Honestly, it’s hard for any of us to go through the level of emotional, social and financial trauma we are experiencing and not be impacted. The environmental and adjustment stress we all feel can be overwhelming, so much so that some of us may find ourselves in a place we’ve never been before when it comes to our mental health. 

Both of you may also be feeling a bit different these days and wondering what in the heck is going on.

Maybe it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, your energy level is non-existent, you aren’t hungry or you eat all the time. Perhaps your nerves seem frazzled or it’s hard to think clearly because your brain feels like it’s in a fog. 

Believe it or not, all of these things are normal responses to a severe crisis, which is what we are in the middle of. The thing we have to ask ourselves is, what can I do to feel better? Or perhaps it’s your spouse who doesn’t seem to be handling things well. Because even if you are ok, it doesn’t mean everyone else is. What can you do to help them? 

What if you tried to encourage them to try the following or actually trying them together?

Practical Tips You Can Use Right Now

  • Go for a walk or get some other type of exercise. Doing some sort of physical activity on a daily basis can make a major difference in the way you feel and function. There are lots of free workout apps and online options in addition to getting outside and walking, biking or playing active games with your children.
  • Spend time in the sun soaking in vitamin D. This is one of the most powerful ways to boost your mood. The fresh air will be good for you, too.
  • Get on a schedule. Even though one or both of you may not be working or leaving the house, staying on your normal sleep schedule, getting up in the morning, taking a shower, getting dressed, eating at consistent times and then doing something constructive can help your brain function better. 
  • Phone a friend. While we need to physically distance ourselves from others, socially isolating ourselves is not a good thing. Technology allows us to connect with the ones we love face to face. Talking with neighbors across the fence or street can also be helpful. We are made for relationships and we need them to thrive.
  • Watch movies or shows that are funny and make you laugh. Believe it or not, laughter can actually protect you from the damaging effects of stress and help you feel better. Humor helps us release anger, have hope, and be more focused and alert.
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Do your best to eat balanced meals. Try to avoid overeating or not eating enough. That can be difficult given the circumstances, but fresh/frozen fruit and vegetables are great choices if you can buy them. Drinking water has tons of health benefits, too.
  • Limit your alcohol, sugar, caffeine and news intake. If you or your spouse are struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety, these things can make you feel worse.
  • Make time to journal. By trying to write down your feelings, fears, thoughts and emotions, it can help you take control of all that is running through your head. Sometimes what appears overwhelming in your mind, doesn’t seem so much so when you actually look at it on paper.
  • Ask for help.* Don’t let pride or fear keep you or the one you love from seeking help to get past this moment in time. What we are going through is hard. If either of you is having trouble navigating through this time, ask for what you need. Plenty of doctors and counselors are seeing people through Zoom and other ways.

This Is Not Easy!

It’s normal for all of us to be feeling some ways about this COVID-19 thing. It is highly likely that none of us will come through this unscathed in one way or another. If you get to a place or you are already in a place where how you are feeling is impacting your ability to function and accomplish simple daily tasks, that’s when you know it’s time to get some help. 

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357); National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Image from Unsplash.com

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Looking for relationship resources during COVID-19? Click here!

“What in the world do you have to be depressed about?”

“Did something happen to make you sad?”

“Just snap out of it.”

Susan* has heard all of these statements her entire life from friends and family as she battled clinical depression.

“Growing up I was a very shy person in a family of extroverts,” says Susan. “My siblings all love being social and funny. I’m the one who just wants to stay home and read. Throughout my childhood I was very moody.”

It wasn’t until law school when she was waking up in the middle of the night with her jaw clenched that she decided to talk with a counselor. During her first session, the counselor asked, “At what point in your life did you determine it was your job to be the savior to everyone?”

“It was at that moment that it hit me,” Susan recalls. “Up to that point, I was the person everybody came to with their problems. I learned I needed some serious boundaries in order to stop letting people walk all over me. I also learned I was clinically depressed.”

Susan knew she had much to be thankful for, but that didn’t stop her from feeling horrible on a daily basis.

“Living with depression is like this fog that minimizes joys and magnifies hurts and criticism,” Susan shares. “People who don’t have depression see the world in color. People with depression see the world in black and white. I have dealt with suicidal thoughts for 20 years.”

Susan recalled a time three months before her wedding. She was driving home from work, planning her suicide in her mind. She wanted the pain to be over. Clearly, she did not follow through with her plan. Susan’s fiance was out of town on business, and she could not think of one other person who would know what to do. She got the help she needed to get through that moment, but every day is still a battle.

“In listening to people talk about the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I think people don’t understand that when you suffer from depression, it’s like every day on this earth is a living hell,” Susan says. “My depression is so severe, it often interferes with my ability to function. For me, and I think many others dealing with depression, the thought of not having to deal with the pain anymore is very appealing.”

When asked what people say as they try to help, Susan shared that it isn’t helpful to tell a depressed person to just snap out of it, pop a pill or ask if they had a fight with their spouse.

“It is helpful to ask, ‘What can I do?’ or to send a text to check in or call and ask how things are going,” Susan says. “Both my husband and I suffer from depression. He knows that when I am having a hard time, the best thing he can do is give me space and let me be quiet. I know that when he is struggling, the thing that helps him most is to get out and do something.”

Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can feel awkward. But if you’re unsure whether someone is suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. You can’t make a person suicidal by showing that you care. Giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings, however, can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent a suicide attempt.

If you want to be helpful to a person who you believe may be having suicidal thoughts, here are some things you should do:

  • Be yourself. Let the person know you care and that he/she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.
  • Listen. Let the suicidal person unload despair or vent anger. No matter how negative the conversation seems, its existence is a positive sign.
  • Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm and accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.
  • Offer hope. Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.
  • Take the person seriously. If the person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You are not putting ideas in their head, you are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that it’s OK for them to share their pain with you.
  • Ask them how you can be helpful. They may not be able to immediately answer this question, but asking it encourages them to think about it.

Here are some things you should not do. DO NOT:

  • Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: “You have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” or “Look on the bright side.”
  • Act shocked, lecture on the value of life or say that suicide is wrong.
  • Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.
  • Offer ways to fix their problems, give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.
  • Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Should your parent check your phone?

When you sit down to a family meal, are people on their devices?

Do your parents follow you on social media?

These are just a few of the questions from an informal survey of more than 1,000 middle and high schoolers during March and April of 2018. The responses might surprise you.

When students were asked if their parents ever checked their phones, 82 percent said their parents never checked or only checked it once or twice a year. Forty-five percent of respondents said they are not on their phones or watching television during family meals, and 22 percent said they don’t eat meals together as a family.

When it comes to social media, 45 percent of the teens said their parents follow them on some apps while 28 percent said their parents do not follow them on any social media apps. Only 27 percent said their parents follow them on all their social media apps.

Overwhelmingly, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, iMessage, FaceTime, Facebook and Twitter were the most popular apps, used by 60 percent or more. Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube were all above 80 percent.

Here’s where things really get interesting. 

When asked about negative experiences on social media:

  • 56 percent of respondents said they had been contacted or messaged by a complete stranger. 
  • Over 46 percent said they have been unfriended, unfollowed or deleted from someone’s account. 
  • More than 39 percent said someone had asked them for inappropriate/sexual pictures. 

And when it comes to breaking up, 36 percent said someone had broken up with them by text or another form of social media.

The final question, “Has social media ever made you feel stress, anxiety or depressed?” had some very interesting results. Overarchingly, 45 percent of respondents said social media never makes them feel stress, anxiety or depression. However, in unpacking the data, 62 percent of middle-schoolers said social media never makes them feel this way. Conversely, by 12th grade, 60 percent of teens say it has contributed to stress, anxiety and depression.

Another aspect of this involves structure and parental engagement in the home. Teens who say their parents are actively involved in overseeing their social media engagement reported significantly less stress, anxiety and depression than teens who reported less parental involvement. Teens who reported the least amount of structure and parental engagement also reported the highest levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

Before you convince yourself that technology is the problem, breathe. The truth is, technology will only continue to evolve and move faster as time goes by. Being tuned in to your child is their best hope for navigating those changes in a healthy manner. In a previous survey, teens were asked what helped them make good choices with social media and phone usage. The number one answer was “knowing that my parents check my phone.”

It may be tiring and frustrating, but you are the best app for your child’s phone.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV!