Anxious and Depressed – Today Your Teenager is Afraid to Ask for Help

Knowing the signs of teenage depression that will make you want to get more involved.

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“Ryan, do you want to kill yourself?” Stephanie of the suicide hotline asked me. Soon after, the police showed up, handcuffed me, and brought me to a hospital for a week-long stay in the mental ward.

I recently watched the movie It’s Kind of a Funny Story. It is now one of my favorites, up there with The Perks of Being a Wallflower. What’s funny about the funny story movie is–it’s shockingly real.

People in the mental ward are not crazy. They are you and me. They are our children, our teenagers. They are the ones that are brave enough to ask for help. Not because they faced extraordinary circumstances, but because the ordinary became too much.

“It’s been anxiety that leads to insomnia. And because I have insomnia, I’m not getting enough sleep, which results in more anxiety, and then you just fall into a slump, or it’s never-ending,” Colby Peck

“6 in 10 teenagers polled nationwide say they have experienced loneliness during the pandemic.” In Benedict Carey’s latest New York Times article, he reports, “rates of suicidal thinking and behavior are up 25 percent or more from similar periods in 2019, according to an analysis of surveys of young patients in emergency rooms.”

Through most of 2020, the proportion of pediatric emergency admissions for mental problems, like panic and anxiety, was up by 24 percent for young children and 31 percent for adolescents compared to the previous year, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Benedict Carey

How Can You Tell?

The signs of teenage depression are clear. Below I’ll include some helpful infographics, but here are some articles to help you determine what the symptoms of depression and signs of anxiety for your teenager are:

When I was in the mental ward, there were five young adults there with me. Some were teenagers in high school or recently graduated. These depressed and anxious teenagers were there due to anything from school pressures to their relationship with friends, family, and boyfriends/girlfriends.

At one point, they all had “sitters” or “watchers” (people that would stay with them to make sure they were safe–that they didn’t try to kill themselves). One young man was there because his mom called the police to check on him after he tried to drink himself to death. Another teenage girl was there because the pressures of school were too much.

Why was I in the mental ward? I was trying to do too much

And what about the movie? The young man was facing teenage depression symptoms. He was under pressure, mainly influenced by his dad, to apply to a school and to become something meaningful in his life. But he just wanted to be an artist.

Infographic showing depression in teens and mental health issues of children and kids
Infographic from TopCounselingSchools.org

Pandemic Surge Capacity

Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle talks about surge capacity as having a limited number of psychological and physiological resources to deal with a finite amount of stress. In other words, our bodies can’t handle the long-term stress of being in quarantine and dealing with COVID-19. We can run from fire or fend off animals, but we collapse under the pressure of months-long stress.

In late March, even before the coronavirus had reached the frightening benchmark of infecting more than 1 million people worldwide, 77 percent of American women and 61 percent of men were reporting personal stress, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. – Pandemic anxiety is making us sleepless, forgetful and angry. Here are tips for coping. – The Washington Post

Now, add in additional pressures faced by young adults and teenagers. A Pew Research Center report states that over 52% of adults under 30 live with their parents. Plus, not seeing their friends or socializing. Plus, not engaging in sports or exercising. We have an issue.

Tanmay Tripathi talks about depression from a teenager’s perspective:

One of the reasons why our society is ignorant of mental health is because we have failed to understand and differentiate between being sad and depressed. It is as same as calling an anxious person, an attention seeker or an “overthinker.” Tanmay Tripathi 

So What Can We Do?

So once you know the teenage depression symptoms and anxiety symptoms, what can we do to help? Will a lavender lemonade recipe help? What about melatonin gummies? 

The Anxiety & Depression Association of America has their COVID-19 Lockdown guide:

  1. Reframe “I am stuck inside” to “I can finally focus on my home and myself”
  2. Stay close to your normal routine
  3. Avoid obsessing over endless Coronavirus coverage
  4. A chaotic home can lead to a chaotic mind
  5. Start a new quarantine ritual
  6. Use telehealth as an option to talk to a professional if your anxiety becomes unmanageable

But let’s be real, melatonin sleep gummies don’t do shit to help with anxiety and depression. 

Infographic about mental health in kids and ages at which depression anxiety and other mental health issues arise in teenagers and children
Infographic from mentalhealthamerica.net

What helps is knowing what are the symptoms of depression and what are the symptoms of anxiety. Once you know the symptoms, you can seek treatment for anxiety and depression, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication for anxiety and depression. 

When I first started medication for anxiety and PTSD, I was afraid it would turn me into a walking zombie. I was scared it would take away my personality or my creativity. It hasn’t. I can still daydream, I can still write, I can still create. 

Medication didn’t take away the anxiety or depression, but instead, it makes the rainstorms not last as long. And when the storms do hit, I feel I have an umbrella versus getting soaked.

But for our teenagers, it begins with a conversation. We are responsible for taking away the stigma of mental health. As the movie described, mental health is a valid part of health that needs medical intervention and treatment. And that’s okay.

Speaking of being okay, Hannah Lucas is a teenager that learned the hard way that not being okay is okay. She is the inventor of the notOK app, made by a teen with depression and anxiety for teens with depression and anxiety. Check out her movie video below.

Story of Hannah Lucas, creator of notOK app for teenagers with depression and anxiety

Sitting with Emotions

One thing that has helped me besides the medication was learning to sit with my emotions. To not label them, but to talk to them as if they were younger versions of myself. I see that depression and anxiety express themselves through feelings that I need to hold and listen to–they are telling me something. 

I realized that I am not my emotion. I am not my thoughts. Learning this has helped me and helps me be a better parent dealing with teenagers who could show symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Knowing the signs of teenage depression and anxiety is a great beginning. Knowing what are the symptoms and then being able to talk to your teenager is a decisive step. If anxiety medication or depression therapy is needed, there is no shame–let’s work to remove the stigma.

What’s Your Story?

The United States recently crossed its 500,000th COVID death. But I wonder how many more COVID-related deaths are due to suicide. I know there is depression; I know people are at the end of their rope. Let’s talk about it. What’s your story? 

Leave a comment, so we continue this conversation.

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