This week on Homeschool Highschool Podcast Ep 138: Teens and Depression. This post is running concurrently on the Ultimate Homeschool Radio Network.
Homeschool Highschool Podcast Ep 138: Teens and Depression
We wish it wasn’t true but it is. Many teens experience depression at one time or another. Even homeschool high schoolers in a nurturing environment may have a depressive bout. Depression is not something we want to ignore. Join Vicki for a discussion on depression in teens.
Here are some causes of depression in teens:
Pressures of holidays: If there are too many activities or performances, too many relatives they feel stressed about, too much pressure, teens can feel overwhelmed and feel depressed.
Biology: Teens have many hormonal swings and other physiological changes that can make the neurotransmitter serotonin drops. Serotonin is one the brain’s chemicals in charge of mood, energy, focus, hopefulness, appetite and sleep. If serotonin deeps, teens feel depressed.
Stressors of life: High schoolers feel pressure to figure out their future, perform well, get along with family and friends. Sometimes those things get stressful (they don’t know what they should do after graduation, they feel like they can’t do well enough with academics or extracurriculars, the fight with friends or family…). Too many stressors for too long can cause depression.
Too much cortisol: Some teens are naturally anxious. Their bodies produce too much cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol is great when they need an extra boost of energy to run fast when a lion is chasing them. But most of the time, there’s no lion so the cortisol sits in their body and makes them feel anxious. Too much cortisol for too long causes dips in serotonin, then you guessed it- depressed mood.
Poor lifestyle: Adolescents are notorious for poor lifestyle. Not enough sleep, too much junk food, lots of negative self-talk, too many stressors. These can work together in a perfect personal storm to cause depression.
Most of the time, depressed mood only lasts a few days then teens bounce back.
Sometimes the bounce back doesn’t bounce back and the depression doesn’t pass. If a teen feels depressed mood for more than a few weeks, clinical depression levels can set in. The difficult thing is: Teens (especially males) will rarely say, “I feel depressed”. You have to observe it for yourself.
Depression in adolescents often looks like a combination of these things:
Lethargy- gaming excessively, bingeing on YouTube or Netflix, social media bingeing, sitting around doing nothing
Loss of interest in the things they would have normally like- *got tired of ___*, *don’t like___ anymore*, *nah, I don’t want to do ___*
Sleep disruption- Homeschool high schoolers may sleep all day and stay up till 3 or 4 or some can’t sleep at all. (Get some great tips from this episode on stress and teens with Marianna Chambers.)
Appetite changes- You will notice that your teen has a loss of appetite or don’t notice they are hungry. Or you might catch them binge eating carbohydrates.
Urge to self-harm- Adolescents with very low serotonin levels often have the urge for cutting or other self-harm; either with no intent to suicide or suicidal ideation (thinking about suicide).
NOTE: If there is active suicidal ideation and they say they know how they’d do it, go right to the hospital to be evaluated. Don’t mess around with this even if they get angry at you. It’s better to risk their irritation than lose your teen. Adolescents can be impulsive when they are depressed.
Sadness- Some teens won’t report feeling sad. It’s as if they aren’t able to identify it for themselves. However if you give them a verbal *Happy-Sad* scale, they will often report fairly accurately. Ask them: “On a scale of 1-10, 1o is the best you ever felt and 1 is suicidal, what number would you give today? What is the highest and the lowest number from last week?” Numbers of 1-3 are high concerns.
What to do if your homeschool high schooler is depressed:
Get them some counseling. It helps. Insurance usually covers cognitive-behavioral and other therapies. I have worked as a mental health counselor for decades, so I know the good results. Sometimes teens are irritated at their parents for bringing them to the first session, but I generally win them over and they leave with tools that will quickly help them notice improvement. Counseling for teen depression varies but often we are looking at 1-10 sessions. It’s worth the investment.
Take them to the family doctor. You want to make sure something else physical isn’t going on. I’ve seen thyroid issues, PMS and anemia cause depressed feelings. If there are no other causes and counseling isn’t breaking the depression alone, sometimes doctor with suggest an SSRI to add to the counseling. This is a therapeutic medication that helps the brain heal the serotonin levels (it is not a mask of symptoms, but a healing agent- kind of like taking iron for healing anemia).
What mom can do that really helps:
- Be with your teen. Take them for drives in the car (without earbuds). Take them for hikes or simple walks- mood enhancer
- Get rid of junk food and drinks. Healthy foods like colorful fruits and vegetables, probiotic foods like yogurt, dairy and poultry all help the brain make serotonin.
- Teach them deep breathing. Oxygen lowers cortisol which allows the serotonin to bounce back. Here’s a freebie how-to from my coaching site: Progressive Relaxation.
- Sleep hygiene. Teens need adequate sleep. If they get proper sleep, it helps the brain to heal. Here’s a post with how-to get sleep under control.
- SAD Light for Seasonal Depression. Get a full-spectrum light to heal seasonal depression. (I personally love my light box. I don’t have full Seasonal Affective Disorder, but the gray days of winter make me feel mopey and the lightbox helps.) Here’s a post from Mayo Clinic on finding a lightbox.
- Positive friends. God made us for community. They need laughter with friends. Even if you have to cook something up and make it happen.
Join Vicki for a discussion of teens and depression. Also you’ll be blessed by these posts from our friends.