Over the past decade, where we have seen the need for good mental health get more recognition, there have been concerns over the increasing depression in teens. Depression is a very serious condition that can adversely affect the quality of life, and in the worst-case scenario leads to suicidal thinking. Even though teens are becoming health conscious in many other ways, they seem to be experiencing high rates of stress, anxiety and depression which may be owed to several other factors combined.
One of the primary sources of stress in teens today is thought to be excessive exposure and use of digital and social media. We may think they are interacting well due to their tech-savviness but studies indicate that excessive virtual interactions can adversely impair their mental and emotional health. According to a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, social media use among young adults and depression are linked so closely that by 2030, researchers predict anxiety and depression could be the leading cause of disability in high-income countries. To add to this, during the Covid 19 pandemic lockdown where academic learning had to be shifted online, teens were deprived of the social experience and connections they need at this age. The in-person social experiences are important at this age because when teens are able to be a part of a group where they feel loved, and accepted, their emotional and psychological health typically thrives. Having said that when these social experiences are competitive and intense and when teens have a hard time fitting in with their peers, this can lead to depression. In my coaching experience, most of my teenage clients have presented with social anxiety and low self-esteem resulting from rejection by their peer groups. At this tender age, teens find it difficult to rationalize the behaviour they encounter from their peers and experience feelings of inadequacy and not being wanted, which if not dealt with can lead to a depressive state.
Another issue that surfaces again and again in teenage depression is the pressures of academics. The education systems evolve considerably over the years with frequent changes in the curriculum and study methods. Parents and educators alike, expect their children and students to be the top performer, not realizing the pressure it places on the young minds. The bar continues to be raised and competitiveness amongst teens increases. Failing to meet the expected grades and standards of work can lead to teens feeling under-achieved, unmotivated and nothing less than a failure. To overcome such feelings of inadequacy or even under peer pressure, there is a danger that they may resort to drastic measures such use of anti-depressants, alcohol or even drugs, not realizing that excessive use or dependency on such substances can cause an even more of a depressive state.
We all hold a shared responsibility towards ensuring the well-being of our youth. Early intervention and treatment can reduce and even stop depression. Teens need communication, they need less pressure from the adults in their lives, and they need healthier, balanced lifestyles but most of all, teens need conscious parenting!
It is important to allow the teens to express their feelings and just listen. Many parents might not give depression the attention it deserves. For instance, some parents believe that depression is a normal part of growing up and it is just the hormones! If stress is not managed during the teens, adolescents become more vulnerable to depression. Today’s teens are more aware and are less accepting of direct orders. It is important not to just enforce our expectations but to offer compassionate adult guidance, oversight and support in order to eliminate risks of them falling prey to poor mental health. As conscious parents, we must educate ourselves on depression and how it might impact our teenagers and also make them aware of the importance of good mental health in general. We must remain vigilant and monitor any changes in the behaviour of our teenage children and not take aggression, isolation, abrupt responses, frustration etc. as normal so that any depressive state can be identified and addressed at an early stage.
In times where teenagers may be found to be slipping into a depressive phase, they must be encouraged to express their feelings without being judged or rejected, and engage in self-care activities such as deep breathing, meditation, exercise, or using a gratitude journal. Seeking professional support for mental health concerns may still be taboo but going to a mental health professional is far better than having to rely on medication at a later stage to deal with persistent depression. At the same time, parents might also need to deal with any negative emotions they may be experiencing and role model healthy behaviours in order to provide a conducive environment for their teenagers to flourish.