How to Support a Teen or Young Adult Who is Struggling with Depression.
Over the past decade, teen and young adult depression and anxiety has been on the rise. Within the last couple of years, it has reached "national emergency" status. And the CDC has recently stated that the rise in anxiety, depression, and suicide among teen girls is "unprecedented".
Chances are you know someone at school, at work, or even in the home who struggles with depression. Today, 1 in 5 teenagers struggle with depression (and 1 in 10 adults). Yet only 20% of teenagers with depression get the help they need.
When you have a friend or loved one who is struggling with depression, it can be hard to know what to do or say that can help them. Many times, when asked, people with depression may find it hard to tell you what could help them.
6 Ways to Support a Teen or Young Adult Who is Struggling with Depression
When we have a friend or family member who is in pain, our natural desire is to help them relieve that pain. Emotional pain is no different. We care for and love our friends and family member and want to help. As specialists in teen therapy and young adult counseling, below are some suggestions from our experience in working with teens and young adults who struggle with depression. This is not an exhaustive list but can provide you some helpful tips on how to support your friend or family member.
1. Learn About What Depression Is & Is Not
This is probably one of the most important steps if you want to support someone with depression. There are misconceptions about what depression is or is not.
Just as important as it is to find the right words or actions to take to support someone with depression, it's just as important to understand what not to say or do. We don't want to make things worse.
For example, suggesting that they just think more positively tends to not be too helpful. If it was that easy, they wouldn't be depressed. Having an understanding of the mechanisms in the brain that create the symptoms of depression can help you not only understand depression better but approach it with a higher degree of empathy.
2. Practice Patience & Understanding
While you educate yourself about what depression is and is not, you will come to understand how complicated depression can be. It can take some time for someone to work through and overcome the symptoms of depression.
In your support, be patient and understand that overcoming depression is a process. It may take some time. And a teen or young adult with depression can benefit greatly from a friend or family member who hangs in there with them.
Don't take it personal if they are not taking your suggestions or your support doesn't seem to be helping. The mere fact that you stick in there with them and are there when needed is one of the greatest ways you can help support them.
3. Listen with Acceptance & Non-Judgmentalism
Everyone will experience sadness in their life. Not everyone will experience depression. While sadness can help provide you with some empathy, it can be difficult to fully understand depression if you haven't experienced it before.
Depression is often irrational and illogical. Depression tells us very convincing lies about ourselves and our place in the world around us. And one of the hard things about depression is that we know that what is felt is not rational, but we haven't found a way through it yet!
It's like a battle between our logical, rational, reasonable mind and our irrational, illogical, lying emotional mind. Because of the irrationality of depression, teens and young adults may feel embarrassed to talk about what they are feeling. They may think that others may judge them as a result or not understand. If you can be a good listener, without judgment, and validate their feelings, this can go a long way in relieving a lot of the stress and isolation around depression.
I learned a long time ago the difference between validating and agreeing. They don't have to be the same thing.
We can validate someone's feelings as something they are experiencing without agreeing with the feelings. For example, a common lie that depression tells people is that they are worthless and that they will always feel this way.
Two lies of depression:
Lie #1: They are worthless.
Lie #2: It will never change, and they will always feel this way.
An example of how to validate (without agreeing) with this feeling is simply restating what they told you:
"You feel like your worthless and that this feeling will always be there." Or,
"You're saying that you feel like you're not worth very much right now and that your worried this feeling will never go away?"
I'm not agreeing with them using these statements. I'm reflecting back to them how they are describing how they feel. Just this act of reflecting back what you are hearing them say, without judgment, is a very supportive and can help.
4. Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood
Stephen Covey's Book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" list this as one of the effective habits in his book. This applies not only in business but in relationships as well.
When we seek first to understand, it is more likely that the other person will seek to understand us.
If we jump in to try to support a teen or young adult before we fully understand them, they are less likely to feel supported, more likely to feel judged, and less likely to listen to any input or feedback we have for them that could help.
Using the example above, once we reflect back what we hear them say, and they acknowledge that's how they feel, we can then provide some outsider observations such as:
"I know you don't feel like you're worth much right now. Can I give you some of the observations I have that show to me you are of worth and value to not only me, but others?"
"I know what I'm about to say probably won't take that feeling of feeling worthless away, but I'd like to tell you why you matter to me."
"I know you feel worthless right now and that you feel you'll always feel this way. Do you remember last summer when you didn't have these feelings? If there was a time you didn't have these feelings before, do you think there might be a time where these feelings will go away again?"
"Are there things that you used to do that made you feel good about yourself? And if so, can we go do those things together? Give it a try?"
We really want to help the pain to lessen or go away. And sometimes no matter what we say, our friend or family member may not take our input and put it into action -- yet. Be patient and hang in there with them.
5. Touch Base to Let Them Know You're Still There for Them
It's important that while a teen or young adult is struggling, that you touch base with them from time to time. It can be tiring and even exhausting sometimes supporting a friend or family member who is struggling with depression.
Because it can be exhausting, they may be used to people dropping off in their support of them. And this only serves to reinforce the lies the depression tells them.
Checking in from time to time doesn't mean you have to ask them how they are doing. Shoot them a text letting them know that you hope they have a good day or that you're just thinking about them. Call them to tell them about something that happened in your life that they might like to hear.
Drop a line somehow that shows them that you're still there for them.
6. Encourage Them to See a Specialist in Teen and Young Adult Counseling
Your friend or family member will appreciate your support. They will appreciate you hanging in there with them when they know it's hard for people to do.
And there comes a time that if the depression persists, seeing a specialist in teen counseling or young adult therapy is the answer.
Working with teens and young adults is much different than working with adults or people of other ages. There are generalist practices and therapists who see everyone. As a generalist practice, their training, education, and experience is divided into helping a wider variety of ages and populations.
Finding a practice or a therapist who specializes in teen therapy or young adult counseling means they have centered their career around helping teens and young adults. Their training, education, experience is all focused and funneled towards the unique approaches needed to help teens and young adults.
And not everyone has the personality to work with teens and young adults. The connection and fit between a teen therapist and the teen are a major part of the healing process. If a connection cannot be made and there isn't a fit, the teen or young adult will likely not return to see that therapist.
Challenges like depression as well as anxiety are very treatable challenges. There are therapy approaches out there for each teen and young adult. Approaches like:
More times than not, if the teen or young adult stick with therapy, they will overcome the challenges they are facing in a matter of months.
Also, a nice article that provides additional information on how to support a teen or young adult who is struggling with depression come from "Psychology Writing". Check it out.
Katy Teen & Family Counseling: Your Teen Therapy & Young Adult Counseling Specialists Katy, TX & Houston
It hurts to see someone we are close to suffering. Having the tools and information to help support a teen or young adult with depression can help. And there are specialists in our community who have helped many other teens and young adults overcome depression.
At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we have 70+ years of combined experience in teen therapy, young adult counseling, and family therapy. At our Katy, TX location, our therapists are here to help your teen, young adult, and provide the support parents need too. If you are ready to meet with one of our therapists, all you need to do is follow these three simple steps:
Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling
Talk with one of our caring therapists
Begin the healing process today!
Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling
At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we provide a variety of therapy approaches that are supported by research and shown to be effective. Some of the teen therapy and young adult counseling we offer are:
Board Certified Neurofeedback Therapy
Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)
Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)
Group Therapy for Teens
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Couples Therapy & Marriage Counseling
Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling can be very effective. The secret ingredient to success is each person willing to look at themselves and work to do things differently, together. When a marriage counselor or couples therapist has this to work with, the success rate can be very high.
Sometimes life will throw challenges at us that create situations that put strain on our marriage or relationship. It may be due to:
Choices and actions that have been made by one partner.
Financial downturn in the economy creating financial strain.
Feeling like you're growing apart.
Feeling like you don't have as much in common as you used to.
Whatever the reason may be, marriage counseling and couples therapy can help. Couples therapy and marriage counseling has also been found to work in less time than individual therapy.
If you've worked hard for this relationship and find that there are now barriers in the way of maintaining a healthy relationship, contact us at Katy Teen & Family Counseling.
About the Author
Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker - Supervisor (LCSW-S), Board Certified in Neurofeedback, EMDR trained, and a Certified Brain Health Professional through the Amen Clinics. He has provided therapy to teens, young adults, and families since 2003 and is the Owner & Lead Clinician at Katy Teen & Family Counseling and Katy Counseling for Men.