If you are a teenager and struggling with depression, you are not alone. Teen depression is very common and also very distressing. It can feel unbelievably isolating, as depression is not always obvious to friends or even family members. It’s likely that many of your classmates are also struggling with depression or other mental health issues. Being a teenager is not easy – your body is changing, you are navigating social pressures and new relationships, trying to meet the expectations of parents and teachers, juggling busy schedules and homework, and preparing for life after high school. On top of all that, you are now living through a pandemic! Teen depression rates are even higher than normal due to social isolation and separation from activities that were once very integral to daily life. You may have missed important events, such as homecoming, or maybe you didn’t get to play on that sports team you had been training and hoping for. There is a lot to grieve and adjust to during this unprecedented time.
Depression might feel like a debilitating fog or a low-level sadness that you just can’t shake. You may not feel motivated to do schoolwork or enjoy the same things you once loved. Maybe you feel disconnected from your family or friends, disconnected from yourself, or just really angry at the state of the world. Some days it may feel more like anxiety (depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand). It’s important not to dismiss these feelings. You’re already moving in the right direction because you’re reading this article! Here are some things to consider as it relates to teen depression:
Talk with someone you trust
You may not feel comfortable opening up to your parents right away – that’s okay. Is there a teacher you connect with? A coach? A neighbor or close relative? It may even be a parent of one of your friends. Find someone you can trust and let them know you’ve been struggling. You don’t need to have the perfect line-up of words; it may feel difficult to articulate how you’re feeling. That’s okay! Oftentimes when we are in the middle of something it’s not always easy to communicate clearly about it. You can even just say, “I’m struggling and I wanted someone to know. I’m not sure what to do.” Depression will likely only worsen the more hidden it is kept. There is power in sharing your struggles with even one person – it can open up a path towards healing.
Keep a feelings/thoughts journal
As previously mentioned, it can sometimes feel hard to identify and articulate our emotions. We know that something is off – we may feel like we are living in a fog – but we can’t quite pinpoint what we are feeling or why we are feeling it. It might be helpful to keep track of how you’re feeling and the kind of thoughts you’re having by writing them down daily. At the end of each day, you can take time to reflect on your day, the events that happened, how you felt, and what you thought. This can help you make some connections and important changes. For instance, you may notice that you feel sad every time you hang out with a particular group of people. You might then consider spending less time with those people. Or maybe you notice that you feel physically and emotionally drained after participating in a virtual event or class for over an hour. While it is not realistic to skip class when it’s virtual, you can have a plan for how you will recharge after class when you know it’s going to be online. We can begin to make life adjustments when we realize the connection between our thoughts, our feelings, and our behaviors.
Pay attention to your body
Depression takes a toll on the body and it can mess with our normal rhythms. We might feel unable to sleep or we might feel like we want to sleep all day long. We may feel a loss of appetite or we may find that we are eating more than usual. In the same way that it can be helpful to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings, it can also be helpful to pay attention to what we are experiencing physically. How do your diet and sleep schedule affect your mood? What about exercise? It is very common to feel a heaviness or fatigue in your body when struggling with depression. This can make it difficult to find motivation to exercise. For that reason, it is important to engage in exercise that you enjoy, whether that’s running or walking or dancing in your bedroom. Exercise is one of the best ways to combat depression because it produces hormones that can naturally improve your mood.
During your teenage years, your body will likely change a lot and potentially cause you to feel self-conscious or even disoriented. For example, it is common to struggle with acne or fluctuations in weight. This can impact your self-esteem and contribute to teen depression. There are a ton of social pressures and when we don’t meet those standards, we question our worth or our ability to fit in. You are not alone in that – everybody is just trying to measure up to an unattainable notion of perfection! You do not have control over many of the ways your body will change, but what do you have control over? Can you learn to take care of your body and practice kindness towards those parts that don’t feel so ideal? Can you celebrate the parts of yourself that make you who you are, whether that’s your creativity, your kindness, your love for animals, or your sense of humor? Those are qualities that cannot be taken from you.
Symptoms of teen depression may vary from person to person – what is helpful for one person may not be helpful for another. For that reason, it may be important to speak with a teen therapist who does teen therapy so they can understand your specific symptoms for depression and help create a treatment plan that works for you. Together with a therapist you can talk about how to cope with all the difficulties of life as a teenager in the middle of a pandemic. If you are interested in setting up an appointment with a clinician who specializes in teen therapy in Philadelphia, Ocean City, Mechanicsville, or Santa Fe, call (215) 922 5683 x 100