Adolescent depression can harm your youngster's relationships and academics, as well as increase the risk of substance abuse. Understand what you can do to help prevent adolescent depression. Adolescent depression is a serious health problem that can cause long-lasting physical and emotional problems. Not all adolescent depression can be prevented, but there's good news. By promoting your youngster's physical and mental health, you can help him or her handle stressful situations that might trigger adolescent depression.
What causes adolescent depression?
There's no single cause of adolescent depression. Genetics and environment may play a role. In addition, some adolescents are more prone to depression than are others — including kids of depressed moms and dads, as well as kids who have anxiety or behavior problems. Adolescent girls may be more vulnerable to depression than adolescent males, because females are more likely to derive self-esteem from relationships. Some adolescents' relationships can be especially challenging due to early physical development that can make them look different and change the way peers treat them. Sometimes adolescent depression is triggered by a health problem, stress, or the loss of an important person in the adolescent's life.
How does depression affect an adolescent?
Adolescents dealing with depression are more likely to experience adolescent pregnancy, abuse drugs and alcohol, and perform poorly at school and at work than are other adolescents. Adolescent depression is linked to an increased risk of suicide and suicide attempts, as well as a recurrence of depression in adulthood.
How can moms and dads prevent adolescent depression?
You may be able to help prevent depression by promoting his or her physical and mental health. Research has shown the following steps can make a difference, including:
- Encouraging physical activity. A small number of studies show that physical activity — regardless of the level of intensity — may slightly reduce adolescent depression and anxiety. While further studies are needed, there's no doubt that physical activity can improve your youngster's overall health. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adolescents get one hour or more of physical activity a day.
- Praising your youngster's skills. A 2008 study showed that kids who struggled academically in core subjects in first grade were more likely to display negative self-perceptions and symptoms of depression in sixth grade. Meet with teachers to find out how your youngster is doing in school. If your youngster is having trouble in school, be sure to praise his or her other strengths — whether in music, athletics, relationships or other areas.
- Promoting participation in organized activities. Research shows that playing team sports or taking part in other organized activities can help prevent adolescent depression by boosting a youngster's self-esteem and increasing his or her social support network. Encourage your youngster to get involved in extracurricular activities.
- Providing parental support. In a 2008 study, researchers suggested that the link between low family income and childhood depression might be explained by exposure to stressful events such as divorce or separation or low levels of parental support. Higher levels of parental support seemed to offer protection from depressive symptoms. Remind your youngster that you care by listening, showing interest in his or her problems, and respecting his or her feelings.
- Talking to your youngster. One of the early warning signs of adolescent depression is a sense of isolation. Set aside time each day to talk to your youngster. This step can be crucial in preventing further isolation, withdrawal and progressive depression.
What if my youngster is at risk of depression?
If you're concerned that your youngster will develop depression, consider taking extra preventive steps. Recent research has shown some protective benefits for kids of depressed moms and dads who participated in depression prevention programs involving cognitive behavioral therapy (a type of psychotherapy) or efforts aimed at enhancing their resiliency. Further study of depression prevention programs is needed, however. Consult a mental health professional about the options and what might work best for your youngster.
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