Understanding Depression

Three proactive steps you can take for your teen’s mental health

Research and surveys show it’s not always easy to distinguish teenage moodiness from teenage depression. But fortunately, there are some proactive steps you can take for your teen’s mental health.

If you’re worried you might miss the signs of depression in your teenager, you’re not alone. The C.C. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan recently released the results of the Mott Poll, a national poll on children’s health.

Forty percent of parents say they’d find it hard to tell depression from normal teenage ups and downs. Thirty percent say youth are good at hiding their feelings.

Yet, 42% percent of parents say they feel very confident they would see the signs of depression, while 48% feel somewhat confident.

If you’re thinking the results are conflicting, you’re right.

Having missed the signs of depression in my own daughter, and knowing depression can be hereditary, I’m taking a different approach with my son, four years her junior.

Here are three proactive steps you can take to help your teen’s mental health, or at the very least, your ability to talk with them about it.

Tell your child you would happily get them help if they need it. Tell them even when they don’t seem to need it.

A while back, I spoke with Jeff Williams, head of Business Development at BetterHelp.org, which is billed as “the world’s largest online counselling platform”.

We were talking about teencounseling.com, the sister site of BetterHelp, and their sales funnel. In marketing speak, the funnel is how they acquire new customers.

Most of the traffic entering the funnel on teencounseling.com comes through the “Teen” door versus the “Parent” door.

Most of the those people complete the intake questionnaire, a series of questions about why they’re there and what they need. They create an account with email and password, verify their email address, and then answer more questions.

As far as sales funnels go, it’s a long one. There are a lot of steps. I did it myself the other day. But teens are completing them all. They want help.

And then they get to this screen. Any guesses what happens?

Teencounseling.com asks teens to provide contact information for a parent who will pay and provide consent to counseling services

“Traffic falls of a cliff,” Jeff says.

Parents should know this. That kids are seeking out online counseling for their mental health at higher rates than parents. What’s stopping them from getting it is a fear of telling their parents.

As the adult in this relationship, why not make the first move?

Let your kids know it’s ok to ask for help. That you would help them in a second, no questions asked. That you want them to get help if they need it. Tell them, even if they seem perfectly fine.

Remember your child is inside that teenager. Consider the signs of depression through the lens of your child.

Like the parents surveyed in the National Poll, I, too, knew the signs of depression, but I didn’t see them in my own daughter. She didn’t fit the mold.

When she was diagnosed with major depression and anxiety, she had straight As, an after-school job, and a social life. She seemed fine until, ever responsible, she told me she was depressed and that she needed help.

Now it all makes sense to me. My daughter is an achiever and a rule follower. She gave herself timeouts as a toddler. She has always been exceedingly resourceful, independent and responsible.

My son is different. He’s a creator. He’s smart and witty and charismatic. A reluctant leader. That expression–he moves to the beat of his own drum–fits him perfectly. He has never been motivated by rules or expectations.

Depression and anxiety show up differently in each of them.

So, who is the child inside your teenager? When you describe him or her to friends or family–not now as a teenager, but as a child–what adjectives do you use? What anecdotes do you tell? How did they handle stress or new situations? What’s their risk tolerance? What are their core values?

While it’s true that teenagers are a moody, secretive bunch, your child is still in there. Remember what makes them unique, and look through that lens when you consider the signs of depression.

Teach your kids how to be there for their friends (and have a conversation about mental health at the same time)

The Mott Poll Report also concluded that one in four parents said their child knew someone with depression. One in ten said their child knows a classmate or peer who died by suicide.

In Canada, Jack.org surveyed 1200 youth and found 83% have supported a friend with a mental health issue. Only 39% of them felt they were prepared to offer the support needed. That’s a heavy weight to bear as a kid.

Whether directly or indirectly, our kids are dealing with mental health issues, so why not be proactive and help them out. Jack.org has made it super easy to do so.

At BeThere.org you’ll find the Golden Rules to help young people help their friends. They’re helpful for parents, too.

  1. Say what you see
  2. Show you care
  3. Hear them out
  4. Know your role
  5. Connect to help

So, talk to your kids. Ask them if they’ve ever had to support one of their friends. Ask them if they knew what to do. Point them to BeThere.org. Tell them they can come to you if they need help helping a friend.

In the process, you may find you’ve just opened a window to talking with your teen about mental health without “getting into their business,” as my son would say.

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