Teenage Depression and Anxiety
It’s important to be aware that mental health challenges among young people are quite common. In fact, around half of these challenges appear before they reach 18, and research indicates the highest risk period being around 14.5 years old. It is crucial to be aware of these facts to better support our young people’s well-being.
Recognising depression in teenagers can be quite challenging for parents, as adolescents often withdraw into their rooms and may not openly express their emotions. Additionally, young people themselves may not even realise that they are experiencing depression. If you find yourself concerned that an adolescent might be contending with depression, it becomes crucial to maintain a keen eye on various signs and behaviours.
Signs to look out for:
- Persistent Sadness: Look for prolonged periods of sadness, hopelessness, or moodiness that significantly impact their daily life.
- Social Withdrawal: Adolescents with depression may isolate themselves from friends and family, lose interest in social activities, and become more solitary.
- Changes in Sleep Patterns: Keep an eye on shifts in their sleep habits, such as insomnia or excessive sleepiness.
- Changes in Appetite and Weight: Depression can lead to changes in eating habits, resulting in significant weight gain or loss.
- Loss of Interest: Notice if they lose interest in hobbies or activities they once enjoyed.
- Fatigue and Lack of Energy: Depression often leads to constant tiredness and a lack of motivation.
- Academic Decline: Watch for a drop in school performance, including poor attendance, reduced concentration, and declining grades.
- Irritability: Adolescents may display irritability, anger, or outbursts instead of sadness.
- Physical Symptoms: Physical complaints like headaches and stomachaches may accompany depression.
- Self-Harm or Suicidal Thoughts: Take any mentions of self-harm or suicidal thoughts seriously and seek immediate professional help.
- Substance Abuse: Some adolescents turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their depression.
- Gaming Addition. Spending hours each day connected to screens to the detriment of ones life.
Remember that open and empathetic communication is key. Let them know that you are there for them, ready to listen without judgment, and willing to help them seek the assistance they may need. Together, you can navigate through this challenging period, fostering a nurturing environment that encourages their emotional healing and growth.
If you happen to observe these signs and have concerns about depression, it’s essential to engage with the adolescent in a caring and non-judgmental way. Encourage them to consider seeking assistance from a mental health professional. Additionally, it can be immensely beneficial to involve trusted adults, like parents or school counsellors, to offer the support and guidance needed. Early intervention plays a pivotal role in aiding adolescents to effectively cope with and recover from depression, and your compassionate approach can be a crucial part of that process.
What we currently know is that depression in childhood and adolescence when left untreated is a predictor of severity in late adolescence and adulthood. Unfortunately, this may have a long standing impact in adult functioning. Hence why, if you are able to access intervention early, it can have lasting positive effects.
There are a plethora of therapeutic interventions that have been shown to be effective. A common model that is utilised is Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is a structured and evidence-based approach to treating depression that aims to empower individuals with the skills to manage their condition effectively. It would be difficult to go through all therapeutic models and their approach, but to give you a basic idea of what treatment could look like please follow below.
In CBT, we begin by collaboratively assessing your unique experiences, emotions, and challenges related to depression. This initial phase fosters a trusting and caring therapeutic relationship, resembling a candid conversation with a supportive ally.
Our focus then shifts to understanding the connection between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. By identifying and challenging negative thought patterns, we work together to replace them with more constructive, balanced ones. This process is like cultivating a garden of optimism and resilience.
CBT is not solely theoretical; it is action-oriented. We gently encourage you to re-engage with pleasurable activities and daily life, step by step. Think of it as a gradual rediscovery of your sources of joy and fulfilment.
Throughout your journey, we equip you with practical problem-solving skills and strategies to manage life’s stressors effectively. These tools act as a reliable support system.
Our therapeutic space is a sanctuary where your progress is nurtured and celebrated. You are never alone; we are here to guide you, hand in hand, towards a happier, more balanced life. It’s important to remember that progress is not always linear, there may be times in therapy where you have thoughts that you’re not progressing, not getting better or that you’ve taken a few steps back. This is a normal part of therapy and a very normal experience, if this does come up for you, we encourage that you talk to your therapist about it.
Nearly every teenager encounters fears and worries as a natural part of growing up. Nevertheless, it’s essential not to underestimate the gravity of some anxiety issues in adolescents, particularly if they hinder their attendance at school or social engagement. Adolescents, like adults, endure the distressing effects of anxiety, which can disrupt their development. Anxiety not only feels unpleasant but also impedes the acquisition of vital skills relevant to their developmental stages.
For instance, a teenager struggling with severe shyness and an aversion to peer interactions may struggle to acquire crucial social skills. This deficiency can persist into adulthood, leading to more substantial social challenges. Whether in a workplace or university setting, the adolescent’s deepest fear of being disliked or rejected may become a reality as their awkward or off-putting behaviour elicits rejection and avoidance from others.
It is our shared goal to provide understanding, support, and effective strategies to help adolescents overcome these challenges and thrive in their personal and social lives.
Signs to Suspecting anxiety in an adolescent requires careful observation of various emotional, behavioural, and physical signs. Anxiety can manifest differently in each individual, but common indicators to watch for include:
- Excessive Worry: If an adolescent consistently expresses excessive worry or fear about everyday situations or events, it may be a sign of anxiety.
- Physical Symptoms: Frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, or fatigue without apparent medical cause can be related to anxiety.
- Avoidance: Avoidance of certain places, activities, or social interactions due to fear or discomfort is a typical anxiety response.
- Irritability: Anxiety can make adolescents more irritable, leading to mood swings and outbursts.
- Difficulty Concentrating: Anxiety often affects concentration and academic performance.
- Perfectionism: High standards and excessive self-criticism can indicate anxiety-related perfectionism.
- Excessive Self-Consciousness: Adolescents may become overly concerned about judgment from others, leading to social anxiety.
- Isolation: Withdrawal from friends and social activities can be a sign of anxiety-related avoidance.
- Panic Attacks: Sudden and intense episodes of fear, accompanied by physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath, may occur in severe anxiety cases.
- Overthinking: Persistent rumination or overthinking situations is common in anxiety.
- Seeking Reassurance: Frequent requests for reassurance or validation may indicate anxiety.
It’s important to remember that occasional worry and stress are normal parts of adolescence, but when these symptoms become persistent, intense, or significantly interfere with daily life, it’s essential to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide a proper diagnosis and develop a tailored treatment plan to help the adolescent manage and overcome anxiety. Family and community support also play a crucial role in assisting adolescents on their path to recovery.
Amongst many other therapy models, treatment through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has shown great efficacy. ACT can incorporate exposure tasks as a potent tool to help individuals overcome their anxieties. Please find below an idea of what an ACT informed therapy treatment can look like when graded exposure tasks are included.
In ACT, we begin by establishing a trusting and empathetic therapeutic relationship, creating a safe space for open discussions about anxiety triggers. We work together to understand the underlying fears and thought patterns that contribute to anxiety.
Exposure tasks in ACT are conducted systematically. We collaborate to create a graded hierarchy of anxiety-inducing situations or stimuli, starting with less anxiety-provoking scenarios and progressing towards more challenging ones. This gradual approach ensures that individuals can confront their fears at a manageable pace, reducing overwhelming distress.
During exposure tasks, individuals actively engage with their anxiety triggers while staying present in the moment. Mindfulness techniques are integrated to help them observe their emotional responses without judgment. This process helps individuals defuse from anxious thoughts and build emotional resilience.
Through consistent exposure, individuals learn that anxiety is a natural response that can be tolerated, and avoidance behaviours are unnecessary. This realisation empowers them to commit to values-based actions and lead a more fulfilling life despite anxiety.
Our therapeutic environment is nurturing, and progress is celebrated at every step. Individuals are supported in their journey to confront anxiety, enabling them to regain a sense of control and build confidence in facing life’s challenges.
With ACT and exposure tasks, individuals can develop the skills and mindset needed to confront anxiety head-on, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and less anxiety-driven life. Together, we embark on a path toward greater emotional well-being and resilience.