Depression can affect children and teens just as much as it can affect adults. Depression can cause prolonged periods of sadness, fatigue and low motivation. It’s important to help children and teens learn healthy ways to take care of their mental health so they can cope with and manage depressive symptoms when they arise. Some of the best ways to handle depression include activities that can be done at home, but sometimes professional help is incredibly helpful in helping youth heal from depression.
In This Article
- Signs and Symptoms of Depression
- How to Cope With Depression
- Lean on a Support Network
- Eat Healthily
- Improve Sleeping Habits
- Have a Creative Outlet
- Identify and Avoid Triggers
- Allow Room for Sad Feelings
- Create and Follow a Routine
- Treat Themselves
- Try Something New
- Avoid Procrastination
- Practice Meditation and Other Relaxation Techniques
- Build Self-Esteem With Positive Affirmations
- Talk to a Therapist
- Help Your Child or Teen Heal From Depression
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
Depressive symptoms can be subtle and hard to notice at times. It’s critical to watch for signs and symptoms of depression in youth because negative thoughts and low self-esteem can quickly become overwhelming for children and teens. If you notice your child or teen exhibiting any life-threatening behaviors such as suicidal thoughts or self-harm, seeking help is critical. However, signs of depression are not limited to life-threatening behaviors.
Depression can cause a wide variety of symptoms that can interfere with daily life. Your child or teen may be experiencing depression if you notice any of the following symptoms:
A child or teen with depression may experience low moods and feelings of sadness, irritability, helplessness or hopelessness. These feelings will usually last most days for at least two weeks when a person is going through depression. In addition to feeling sad, a person experiencing depression may also feel irritable, helpless or hopeless. If your child or teen cries more than usual or expresses emotional outbursts, they may be dealing with depression.
Anxiety is a condition that often co-occurs with depression. Anxiety can be a symptom of depression and can trigger depression. When a child or teen has anxiety, they may have pervasive thoughts that eventually lead to feelings of failure and depression. The relationship between depression and anxiety often operates in a cycle.
Depression can cause fatigue and low energy. Fatigue is not always the same as feeling drowsy or sleepy. While it can cause people to feel sleepy, it is most often a feeling of low motivation. People with depression may feel lethargic and unable to complete daily tasks. Children and teens may struggle to complete school assignments, participate in hobbies or do chores around the house due to fatigue.
Depression may affect alertness and impact on energy levels. If your child or teen experiences depression, you may notice them talking or moving slower than usual. They may also struggle to remember things or concentrate on tasks.
4. Changes in Appetite
Depression can change a person’s appetite. It can cause a loss of appetite because some people lose interest in food or feel nauseated when they are depressed. Your child or teen may eat less than usual or lose interest in eating altogether. Depression can also cause some people to eat more than usual to cope with their emotions. Your child or teem may respond to depression by overeating because food can stimulate the reward centers in their brain, making them feel better temporarily.
5. Changes in Sleep
Children and teens can experience changes in their sleeping patterns when they have depression. They may struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. They may wake up often through the night or wake up earlier than usual, which can affect serotonin levels in the brain and exacerbate feelings of depression. If your child or teen seems tired throughout the day, depression may be affecting their sleep patterns.
6. Loss of Interest
A person experiencing depression will often lose interest in things they once enjoyed. For children and teens, these interests can include school activities, hobbies, social interactions and even food.
How to Cope With Depression
Depression can make your child or teen feel helpless and hopeless about the future. However, there are many ways to manage the symptoms of depression. To help your child or teen cope with depression, you can encourage them to do the following:
1. Lean on a Support Network
Depression often makes people feel isolated and alone. It can cause negative thoughts that bring about low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. One way to combat these feelings is to connect with others. Social connection is essential to emotional and mental well-being, and it lowers the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
If your child or teen is experiencing depression, remind them that they are not alone. Let them know you are there to support them, and help them connect with other supportive friends or family members. Encourage them to spend time with others in person or through video chats or phone calls. Interaction with others can improve mental health and happiness and ease feelings of depression.
Exercise may be difficult for your child or teen to engage in when they feel depressed, but regular exercise can significantly help with depression. Some doctors believe that exercise is just as effective at treating depression as antidepressant medications are in some cases. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which are chemicals that produce feelings of pleasure.
High-intensity exercise such as running can release these feel-good chemicals in the brain and ease the negative thoughts and feelings of depression. Other forms of physical activity that can ease depression symptoms include the following:
- Weight lifting
- Rock climbing
3. Eat Healthily
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can help to manage depression. Healthy foods might not have an instant effect on mood, but eating a healthy diet over time can help address some symptoms of depression. Diet affects mental health, so eating more whole foods with nutrients and less processed foods with fat and sugar is essential.
Foods rich in protein, antioxidants, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids can help manage depression symptoms and prevent depression in the future. Encourage your child or teen to eat a healthy diet that includes these foods. Try new healthy foods together or plan days to cook new recipes together.
4. Improve Sleeping Habits
If your child or teen is experiencing sleep disturbances because of depression, encourage them to practice better sleep habits. Getting enough sleep is essential to preventing and managing depression. Your child or teen should avoid using any electronics or mobile devices at least an hour before they go to bed. Encourage them to read before they go to sleep or find another relaxing activity to help them fall asleep.
If they usually work on school assignments in their bedroom, encourage them to switch to working in another room. This will prevent them from associating their bedroom with stress and help them to relax.
5. Have a Creative Outlet
Activities that require creativity can help children and teens to express and work through their emotions. Activities such as writing, drawing, painting, photography, music and other hobbies can be very therapeutic. Even if your child or teen doesn’t feel like they have artistic abilities, encourage them to try new creative ways to process their emotions. They might even discover a new talent and build self-esteem.
6. Identify and Avoid Triggers
Certain thoughts, activities or life events can cause depression to resurface. Help your child or teen identify any negative thoughts or other factors that could trigger depression and practice methods to manage them. Triggers can include lack of sleep, unhealthy diet, changes in routine or other stressors.
If your teen knows that conflict with a particular friend causes them stress that leads to depression, they can spend more time on healthier relationships with other friends. If you notice your child becomes depressed when they aren’t eating healthily, try new foods with them and encourage them to maintain a healthy diet. It can be helpful for your child or teen to write down their moods and symptoms each day to track things that may trigger feelings of depression.
7. Allow Room for Sad Feelings
If your child or teen is having a bad day and feeling sad, validate their feelings. Avoiding negative emotions doesn’t make them go away. When a child or teen allows themselves to feel sad, they learn how to acknowledge and process their feelings.
Help them identify their emotions and listen to what they have to say. It is difficult for parents to see their children struggle with painful emotions and often want to help make them feel better right away. However, when parents don’t allow room for unpleasant feelings and rush to fix the problems, the child or teen can feel misunderstood or that the parents are minimizing their experience. Allow them to talk about how they’re feeling so they can understand their emotions better, but it’s also important that they develop skills to cope with these feelings so that they don’t get stuck.
8. Create and Follow a Routine
Creating a daily routine to follow can help your child or teen develop healthy habits, reduce stress and cope with changes in their life. A daily routine can ease anxiety and help your teen feel like they have more control throughout their day. A daily routine can include healthy habits such as eating a balanced breakfast or engaging in exercise after school each day.
Encourage your child or teen to take small steps toward creating a daily routine, or create a daily routine that you can do with them. You could schedule a time each evening for you and your child to walk the dog, or you could encourage your teen to set aside 10 minutes each morning for yoga. Having a regular, consistent activity to look forward to each day can be comforting and motivational.
9. Treat Themselves
When your child or teen is coping with depression, it can be helpful to treat themselves to something they love or enjoy. This could be as simple as listening to a favorite song or watching their favorite movie. Help them create a list of things that make them happy. When they feel depressed or sad, they can reference the list for ways to cope. Their list can include their favorite songs, snacks, activities, books or other fun things.
10. Try Something New
Trying something new can improve self-esteem, social relationships and overall well-being. Trying new activities or learning new skills forces people to use different parts of their brains than they normally do, so it can alter their brain chemistry in positive ways. Encourage your child or teen to try a new sport, hobby or skill. Achieving something new can boost their self-esteem and help to ease the symptoms of depression. New skills to try can include the following activities:
Volunteering can prevent or help manage symptoms of depression. It allows your child or teen to spend time with others, try something new and help people. Volunteering helps people feel more connected to others, and it can boost self-esteem because it lets people do something that benefits their community. Your child or teen can volunteer with a group of friends or meet new people by volunteering on their own. You can even offer to volunteer with them.
12. Avoid Procrastination
Since depression can cause fatigue and low motivation, your child or teen may avoid school assignments or other responsibilities. However, they should avoid procrastinating and make their best effort to complete tasks they are responsible for. Procrastination can lead to feelings of guilt, stress and anxiety, which can worsen depression. Completing tasks can create the opposite feeling and boost confidence, which may help lessen feelings of depression.
13. Practice Meditation and Other Relaxation Techniques
Meditation, deep breathing and yoga can ease anxiety, stress and other symptoms of depression. These practices can also help people feel more connected to themselves and the world around them. Encourage your child or teen to practice these relaxation techniques, or offer to try it with them. You could take a class together or learn from online videos.
14. Build Self-Esteem With Positive Affirmations
Low self-esteem can be a sign of depression. If your child or teen is experiencing depression, they may have negative thoughts about their self-worth. One way to combat this is by creating and repeating positive affirmations. Positive affirmations can be phrases such as “I can overcome difficult things,” “I am loved,” “I am smart,” or “I am kind.”
You can help your child or teen think of positive affirmations related to what they are going through. They can then write them down and place them somewhere where they can see them every day. They can practice repeating them at a specific time each day or when they feel sad. Affirmations can help children and teens feel more hopeful while they handle depression.
15. Talk to a Therapist
Sometimes, professional help is the best way to cope with depression. Talk therapy can help children and teens process negative thoughts and emotions. It can help them develop coping techniques and gain new perspectives when their thoughts lead them to feel depressed. A therapist or counselor can help your child or teen work through negative thoughts and build resilience. Methods such as dialectical behavioral therapy can help change negative thought patterns and give your child or teen techniques they can use on their own to manage depression.
Help Your Child or Teen Heal From Depression
Depression can affect anyone, and it’s important to watch for depressive symptoms in children and teens. There are many ways to handle depression at home, but sometimes coping with depression requires extra resources and therapy. At Hillside®, we can help your child or teen manage depression and find healing. Through treatments such as dialectical behavioral therapy, animal-assisted therapy, horticulture therapy and other treatments, we help children and teens cope with depression and overcome challenges. Contact Hillside® to learn more about how we can help.