Raising Teen Girls
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5 ways to help my depressed teen daughter

Sad, down, moody, irritable, apathetic, lonely, tired, not herself, aches & pains, personality shift, overwhelmed.  Does this describe your daughter?  If so, she may be dealing with depression. 

It can be very scary as a parent to watch your child go through a mental health crisis.  Depression is one of the most common mental health concerns for teen girls and the chances are high that at some point she will battle with a bout of depression that can range in severity from mild to severe.

Here are 5 ways you can help her if you notice she is dealing with depression at no matter what level.  

Validation

The first and most critical thing you can do is validate her emotional experience.  You may not understand, it might not make sense to you and you don't have to like it but she is going through something that is VERY real to her so she needs you to notice and accept it. 

Telling her she shouldn't feel the way she does or has no reason to feel a certain way will only make it worse for her and push her away from you.  When you notice her mood or emotions, reflect it in a non-harsh, non-judgemental way.

EX: "you seem really down today", "Bryce broke-up with you, that must be really painful", "I've noticed you seem more quiet and sad lately", etc...

Don't ask if everything is alright if you are noticing it isn't.  She will end up telling you she is fine when you both know that isn't true.  Instead, ask her about what you are seeing.

EX: "I've noticed you aren't talking to Taylor any more", "It seems like you have been extra tired lately", "I am hearing a lot of negative things lately", etc...

Listen

Take time to listen to what she is saying verbally and non-verbally.  Girls who are struggling with depression will have several behavioral symptoms as we discussed last week (read here).  When she is depressed she needs more patience, grace and mercy from you.  It will require you to slow down and take the time to hear what is happening. You may have to put some things on hold and make yourself available to her. 

It's easy to let your anxiety take over when your daughter is struggling emotionally.  Learn to manage that and not excessively talk to her about it.  Listening is such a gift.  Sometimes just existing with her and saying nothing is the best thing you can do. 

A typical response is to go right into "fix it" mode.  Resist those urges.  It can make it worse.  Go into "listening" mode and listen for what might help.  You can support her and make adjustments but you can't fix it and that can be painful for families.

Reduce Isolation

When girls are depressed they believe they are entirely depressed and depressed every second of every day, but they aren't.  That is part of her distorted thinking. It also tells her she should just be alone and so naturally she will isolate.  The problem is that she then begins to believe she is alone even thought she has pushed people away.

She needs to be around people.  Teen girls want privacy and to be alone at times but treatment for depression requires her to be around others despite how she feels.  This can help her break the distorted thinking that she is ALWAYS depressed.  Often being with others causes laughing and goofing off which can give her mood a boost. 

You don't want to drag her 24/7 around others but when you notice she has had too much alone time, it's time to intervene.  It's hard because often she will want to bring others down and it can be easier on the family to have her "away".  Have her come but don't require her to be "happy".  That is unrealistic for her and it will just drive you bonkers.  Just require her to be present.

Stand Firm

It is easy to panic when she is depressed.  Often she becomes resistant and difficult to deal with because she has silently given up.  One of the greatest things you can do is stand firm for her.  Don't give up on her.  Be strong for her and show her that no matter what you are not leaving her.  This is such an important message for her to hear from you. 

She will often push people away during this time.  Don't overly force yourself but make sure she realizes you are there.  It is amazing how helpful it is to girls to know that mom is simply in the home.  Your presence is powerful. 

Intentional Activity

Depression causes fatigue, and a low mood.  It is much more difficult for her to muster the energy to do things she likes.  It's important to program some of them anyway.  In treatment, we suggest scheduling activities that produce pleasure, mastery and meaning.

Every day, she should be doing something that brings out those feelings.  It doesn't have to be grand, expensive gestures.  Creativity is important.  Often, I hear girls talk about the difficulty in finding a purpose in life.  We talk about what gives meaning and purpose and how they see it in others lives.  Encourage her to try new things.  That is typically how one finds meaning, passion and purpose. 

Mastery simply means learning new things or accomplishing tasks.  A sense of completion and accomplishment can improve mood.  Our minds are designed to learn and grow.  Keeping them challenged is important.  Even if school isn't her thing find out what is and help her learn about it. 

Focusing on the areas of pleasure, mastery and meaning is an excellent prevention tool.  Girls who do this tend to have low to no depression.  Make a list that she can keep in her room and have her schedule out activities.  Doing these behaviors helps her thoughts.  Depression causes a distorted view that nothing good is happening and that everything is yuck.  Knowing these things exist in her daily schedule helps her challenge the thinking and truth of those beliefs.

My mom always says "you can only be as happy as your unhappiest child".  Watching your daughter go through depression can have a major impact on parents, especially moms.  It's important during that time to be mindful of your own emotions and take good care of yourself.  She need you!

If you notice your daughter has experienced depression symptoms consistently for over 4 weeks, it is a good idea to have a professional talk with you and her about the severity.  Sometimes a situation can trigger the depressed mood but she is able to pull out of it in a few weeks.  One that lingers is of greater concern and any time suicidal thinking is involved you are smart to let a professional assess the risk.