If you see signs that your child may be sliding into serious depression, try the following strategies:
Connect with your child. Be empathetic and compassionately curious about what’s going on in her life. Ask open-ended questions designed to draw her out, such as, “How would you describe your feelings about school these days?” Encourage her to develop her natural gifts and passions. Be an active listener.
Contact other adults in your child’s life. Check in with teachers, coaches, school counselors, youth pastors, or leaders to see if they’ve observed anything unusual in his behavior or attitudes.
Get a medical evaluation. Make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible to rule out potential medical and physiological factors.
Locate a therapist. Engage the services of a licensed professional Christian counselor, preferably one who specializes in working with adolescents. You may also want to look into the possibility of getting involved with some form of group therapy or a peer support program.
Examine yourself. Take a close look at your family history, acknowledge any personal issues that you’ve had with depression, and discuss these matters openly with your child. This will help to normalize his feelings. Any family history of depression is vital information to relay to the medical doctor and therapist.
Be directive. Don’t allow your teen to minimize the situation. If she doesn’t want to see a counselor, find out why. Provide options by saying, “You can see therapist X or therapist Y—the choice is yours.” But make sure the issue doesn’t go unaddressed.
Be a good model. Set a positive example for your child in terms of good nutrition, exercise, sleep, and healthy relationships with God and other people.
Explore appropriate medications. Today there are many different medications available for the treatment of depression. We’ll discuss some of these in greater detail later.
Responding to Depression: What Not to Do
As you work through these issues of depression with your child, make sure you don’t
- threaten or offer rewards,
- inculcate feelings of shame,
- talk too much or offer a lot of unrequested advice (it’s always better to listen),
- make light of his or her feelings of hopelessness or despair.
Depression is a common and potentially serious problem, especially for your kids, who are living in a culture increasingly marked by a deep sense of despair. The causes of the condition are many and varied, but the good news is that it is treatable, and its effects can be successfully counteracted—regardless of its origins.