Summer presents unique challenges for all families (boredom, vacations, disrupted routines), but especially those with family members struggling with anxiety and depression.
Anxiety is common during adolescence: 31.9 percent of all teenagers have had an anxiety disorder, and 8.3 percent experience severe anxiety. Additionally, 13.3 percent of teenagers have had a major depressive episode. Typically, half of depression diagnoses are also diagnosed with anxiety.
Both depression and anxiety can make everyday life seem overwhelming. Teens with anxiety and depression can have trouble sleeping and concentrating, feel tired or panicked, withdraw from friends and hobbies, and come off as moody or irritable. Parents can feel frustrated when their children aren’t able to join in family time, maintain interest in activities, or be proactive in social situations.
Experts agree the first thing parents should do is take care of themselves. If you’re healthy, you’ll be better able to support your child in their struggles. Get enough sleep this summer, block out self-care time, and see a therapist for good mental-health maintenance.
If you’re healthy, then it’s time to engage. The goal is non-anxious, non-judgmental support and here are six approaches to try:
“How are you feeling?” Simply asking and listening without judgment can help validate whatever your teen is feeling. In our haste to “fix things,” it’s easy to make assumptions about what they are experiencing and not even ask. Ask, listen, and let them talk.
“Good job on _____ today.” Acknowledge the small things they are accomplishing. Depression and anxiety make it difficult to finish tasks teens used to breeze through. Praise them for the hard work they are putting into daily life, so they know you see their efforts.
“Do you want to come with me?” Both depression and anxiety are isolating conditions. Instead of nagging teens to get out of the house or invite friends over, which can feel like a huge leap to those struggling with mental illness, try simply inviting them into your routine. It doesn’t have to be anything more than a trip to the store, and they might turn you down more times than not. But gentle invitations can go a long way toward helping teens break out of isolation cycles and creating space for deeper connection.
“What’s ‘good enough’ today?” Instead of aiming for all-time highs, ask what’s reasonable, especially in high-stress situations or in time periods where it’s hard to maintain a schedule. For example, instead of hitting every must-see site on vacation, maybe “good enough” is choosing one, and then relaxing the rest of the time. It can be freeing for teens to know the pressure is off, and family expectations are meet-able.
“If you ever want to brainstorm ideas on what might help, I’m here.” Forcing treatment options on a teen before they are ready can backfire, but keeping the conversation on offer—and letting them lead—can help guide them toward getting help.
However, if your teen is self-harming or at-risk for suicide, they need professional help immediately. Do not wait until they are ready to talk—self-harm and suicide ideation are emergencies.
“What’s the next step?” If your teen is feeling overwhelmed, sometimes it’s helpful to guide them to whatever achievable small action is next. Whether it’s getting ready for a new school year or trying to tackle a new summer hobby, help them take it one tiny step at a time.
These six questions can open up a summer-time dialogue with teens who are struggling with anxiety and depression, help them feel seen, and eventually help lead them to wellness.
Is your teen fighting anxiety or depression? Talk to one of our admissions counselors about how Shelterwood’s innovative treatment programs can help.
- “How to help teens manage their anxiety,” by Leigh Anderson. Lifehacker. 23 October, 2017.
- “Tips for Parents and Caregivers.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. www.adaa.org. Accessed 31 June, 2019.
- “Parenting a Depressed Teenager,” by Stephanie Dowd. Child Mind Institute. Accessed 13 June, 2019.
- “Anxiety and Depression in Children.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. www.adaa.org. Accessed 13 June, 2019.
- “Prevalence of any anxiety disorder among adolescents,” National Mental Health Institute. www.nimh.nih.gov. Accessed 13 June, 2019.
- “Major Depression,” National Mental Health Institute. www.nimh.nih.gov. Accessed 13 June, 2019.