Depressed And Anxious Teens: Experts Give Practical Advice On How To Help (Including Checklists)

Depressed Anxious Teens Practical Advice

Impact Of COVID On Teen Depression And Anxiety

This situation has worsened due to COVID-19 restrictions. Government shutdowns of schools, and a shift to online learning and other ‘shelter in place’ restrictions, have put even more stress on adolescents. Some of the most common stressors include:

1. Reduced peer interaction.

For most teens, peer interaction is one of the most important ways they maintain emotional stability. Peers provide a sense of belonging and support that is crucial during this time when youngsters are forming greater independence.

As teens pull away from parents in preparation for making their own decisions and setting a life course, they desperately need peers to whom they can turn. For many teens, social distancing mandates have made this extremely difficult to achieve.

2. Perceived lack of progress in their march toward adulthood.

When removed from the daily rhythms of the school year, many adolescents fail to see the benchmarks of progress that provide the signposts signifying that they are closing in on adulthood.

The absence of the first football game of the year, homecoming, Thanksgiving break, etc. leaves a void that can lead to a sense of listlessness. Somewhat like driving across a desert in the middle of the night.

3. Missing the “Epic” moments of life.

Teens tend to dramatize, and the variety of experiences that are missed due to social distancing leads some teens to conclude that they have missed out on treasured moments that they will forever mourn.

While it is true that some of these missed events would have been memorable, none of them need to change the course of life. Nevertheless, with a tendency toward drama, many teens find these losses very painful.

4. Close quarters with family over extended periods of time can also lead a teen (and parents) to feel overwhelmed.

Shelter in place causes many teens to become irritable, short-tempered, oppositional. As tensions rise within the home teens feels trapped, misunderstood, and angry. If parents cannot find constructive solutions to defuse these pressures, anxiety, and depression may develop.

What Are Common Signs Of Teen Depression And Anxiety?

Teens are well known for having moods that quickly swing from one extreme to another. This makes many parents feel confused when attempting to answer the question “Is my teen anxious?” or “Is my child depressed?” They think “Who knows? She seemed happy this morning, anxious this afternoon, and sad this evening.”

This state of uncertainty just adds to a parent’s concern and confusion. Let’s erase the uncertainty by looking at the major symptoms for anxiety and the primary symptoms of depression.

Keep in mind that the following list of symptoms is not exhaustive. We are not looking to develop a formal diagnosis in the same way I do when a client comes to see me in the office.

Depressed And Anxious Teens
Depressed And Anxious Teens

What’s more, there are different types of anxiety and depressive disorders. It would not be helpful to go over each one in this article. The lists we will look at the cover the main symptoms of depression and anxiety. We are looking at common signs of these disorders but not trying to pinpoint the specific type of anxiety or depression.

With that in mind, some general guidelines follow. If your teen has at least one symptom from the ‘Feeling’ category and meets six or more criteria from the other items on the depression list, consult with your pediatrician.   

If your teen has at least one symptom from the ‘Feeling’ category of anxiety and meets five or more criteria from the anxiety list, it also would be a good idea to consult with your pediatrician.   

Your doctor will be able to help you decide whether to seek out a counselor. (This is a general guideline only. It may be with some teens that less than seven items would be the threshold for seeking professional advice. Parents must use their own judgment).

If you have an older teen (17 to 19 years) it can be helpful to use free online depression and anxiety screening tools.

Depression

Feelings

  • Feeling hopeless or empty, pervasive sense of guilt/worthlessness.
  • Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason.
  • Loss of pleasure (or interest) in activities, family, and friends that had previously been sources of happiness.
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance.

Behavior

  • Social isolation (especially important when the teen had been very social in the past).
  • Use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors.
  • Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse.
  • Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing, or an inability to sit still.
  • Poor school performance or frequent absences from school in a youngster who previously did well academically and attended school regularly.
  • Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance.
  • Self-harm — for example, cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing (if this is happening then you need not consider how many other symptoms are checked: consult with your pediatrician, or a counselor, as soon as possible).

Thoughts

  • Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism.
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things.
  • An ongoing belief that life and the future are grim and bleak.
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying, or suicide.
  • Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt (obviously, if this is the case contact your pediatrician or a counselor right away).

Health

  • 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.

Related: 4 Common Symptoms Of Depression In Children

Depressed And Anxious Teens: Experts Give Practical Advice On How To Help (Including Checklists)
Depressed And Anxious Teens: Experts Give Practical Advice On How To Help (Including Checklists)

Anxiety Symptoms

Feelings

  • Feeling fearful or full of dread throughout much of the day for most days of the week (extending over several months).
  • A chronic sense of uneasiness/tension or clear-cut fear associated with situations, people, or things that objectively are not threatening (or do not warrant the degree of fear seen in the youngster).

Behavior

  • Appears frequently restless or agitated.
  • Refusal to try new experiences or meet new people.
  • Pacing, twisting hands together, unable to sit still.
  • Obsessive checking that doors are locked, opening and closing doors for no reason, insisting that a desk, room, or other areas of the house needs to be perfectly arranged in a very specific manner.

Thoughts

  • Turns small worries into large concerns.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Becomes fixated on a worrisome thought.

Health

  • Experiences aches and pains (when this had not previously been the case).
  • Has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Racing heart (sometimes heart palpitations).
  • Dizziness, shaking, and wooziness.
  • Sweating in absence of exercise or heat.
  • Frequent unexplained nausea.
  • Chills/Fatigue.
Depressed And Anxious Teens
Depressed And Anxious Teens

The information provided above will be more than enough for most parents to feel confident in determining whether their adolescent son or daughter is anxious or depressed. But for those that would like to quickly take an even closer look at the issue, I’ve linked to additional resources that can be found on depression and anxiety

How Parents Can Help Their Depressed Or Anxious Teen

Now let’s look at how you, as a parent, can help your teen fight back against depression and anxiety.

The recommendations that follow are straight forward. They were specifically chosen so any parent can quickly understand how to apply them with their teen.

But this doesn’t mean things will be easy. Just as running a marathon is simple, the work required to cross the finish line requires a great deal of persistence and hard work.

So be prepared. If your teen struggles with depression or anxiety there is going to be a lot of hard work ahead.

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