Talking with Our Teens about Depression

Many of us may have an image of the teen years as being happy and carefree times, until the day when we see our son or daughter looking completely withdrawn, uninterested in the things that used to bring pleasure – and unresponsive if we try to ask what’s wrong. Teenagers cope with hormonal changes that flood their bodies and minds and intensify their everyday experience. What this means is that they feel things as deeply as adults do. But because they are still young, they haven’t yet had enough life experiences to enable them to objectify their feelings. They have little basis for comparison. This can make it especially difficult for them to deal with darker emotions like sadness, despair, and depression.

Without being able to relate the feeling to any kind of previous experience, a teenager can be overwhelmed by depression. It may become impossible to see any future beyond its dim and gloomy shadow. A boy confronted with depression for the first time may not realize that such a mood can pass in a matter of hours or days. This is a place where we as parents can share some of our own experience as a way of bridging the gulf. But talking to teens about depression is a task to be done tactfully, and may involved more active listening than any giving of advice.

There are a lot of factors that can trigger depression during the teen years, such as divorce, bereavement, and displacement. Some of its outward signs include changes in eating habits, difficulties concentrating or remembering, sleep problems, and a persistent mood of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness. If we notice any of these changes occurring, we can initiate conversation. A teenager’s silence doesn’t necessarily signify a reluctance to talk. He or she may simply not know where, or how, to start.

The most important thing is to take our kids’ feelings seriously. This isn’t the place to make value judgments, or immediately relate what they say to something from our own experience. Asking intimate questions along the lines of “Are you happy?” is a delicate matter; and if we don’t take care, our teens may just shut down or become evasive. It’s crucial that we give them the space to express themselves, and that they feel heard. When a teenager is troubled, there is no such thing as a small issue.

Oftentimes, the feelings that our kids open up to us about don’t necessarily need to be resolved but only acknowledged. Their problems may not be bound up with any life situations at all. Rather, they may be struggling to cope with the intensity of the feelings themselves. The crucial thing that they may need to hear from us is that pain is normal for everyone – and that life goes on. When our kids feel validated in their feelings, it can help them to reassert personal control and start looking forward again.

About Seth Mullins

Seth Mullins is a modern medicine man who strives to put his innate knowledge of ancient healing arts into terms that Western minds might understand. His other interests include music and writing – the enduring practice that has always served to tie diverse elements together. He has produced two novels of metaphysical fantasy (“Song of an Untamed Land” and “Song of the Twice Born”) and written extensively about such topics as spirituality, family, parenting, nature and the arts – always stressing our ability as spiritual beings to create our own reality and overcome all the various forms of darkness in our lives.

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