The teenage years can be a time of emotional ups and downs, mood swings and confusion. As a parent, it can be difficult to know if your children have a serious problem or whether they are just being normal adolescents. Here are some tips to help you recognise when help might be needed.
We all have mood changes and feel down sometimes. However, if these feelings persist for a young person life can seem hopeless and they can become depressed. Depression is a common illness - it affects one in seven New Zealanders - and it can be treated. If it isn't it can, in some cases, lead young people to hurt themselves or even to commit suicide.
Families are often the first to notice changes in their teenager's behaviour, personality, relationships, thoughts and feelings. These changes may be the first signs of problems. Depression might be the cause if your children are sad, anxious, or bored a lot of the time, are preoccupied with music, stories and games that have a death theme, don't seem to be eating or sleeping properly, say they feel worthless or show long periods of grieving.
There are a variety of reasons why depression occurs. It's more likely to happen if there's a history of depression or other psychiatric illness in the family. It may also occur if your child is experiencing alcohol and substance abuse, chronic illness, low self-esteem and confidence, loss and grief, or stress.
A range of specific events and experiences may also add to teenagers feeling depressed. These could include moving to a new city or country, the loss of a loved one, a close friend or a pet, abuse be it emotional, physical, racial, sexual or spiritual, relationship problems such as parental conflict, peer pressure or relationship break ups, or issues around their sexuality.
It can be hard as parents to show our children we want to help them, yet we can help in many ways. Try starting conversations with openers like: "Can you tell me what you're afraid of?", or "It's obvious things aren't okay at the moment, how do you think we could make them better?", or "I'll stay here with you, we'll work it out," or "Would you like me to find someone for you to talk to?"
Remember too that you don't have to handle these problems by yourself. Other people in your family, close friends, schools, health groups, doctors and counsellors can all help you and your teenagers.
Depression can be treated by counselling and/or with medicine. Counselling can focus effectively on helping your teenager to cope with stress, deal with difficult events, improve their self-esteem and social skills, and understanding their problems and concerns.
You can contact a Relationships Aotearoa counsellor on 0800 735 283 or your local office which is listed in the Telephone Book. Or visit us at www.relationshipsaotearoa.org.nz.