Helping teens deal with anxiety heading back to school

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By Rockland Behavioral Health Response Team

Teenage stress and anxiety is a common particularly for high school students who may be dealing with tests, college applications, social acceptance, dating, and more. Letting them develop their own coping skills is tough but will help them as they grow into adulthood.

However, there are cases in which teenagers aren’t simply learning to deal with the stress and anxiety but are actually suffering from severe anxiety and depression. As a parent, it’s vital that you can identify the difference. Teen depression can lead to a number of serious issues, from problems at school and reckless behavior like to drug and alcohol abuse, and even violence.


SIGNS OF TEENAGE DEPRESSION

More often than not, a teenager’s depression goes untreated because the symptoms are mistaken for simply “being at that age.” If you notice the following behavioral symptoms occurring regularly, then your teenager may be suffering from clinical depression that might require intervention:

Irritability – One of the biggest differences between teenage and adult depression is that the predominant mood is irritability instead of sadness. Depressed teenagers are often grumpy, easily frustrated and hostile.

Aches and pains – Depressed teenagers will often complain regularly about physical aches and pains that do not have a medical cause.

Extreme sensitivity – They are often extremely sensitive to rejection, criticism and failure due to feelings of worthlessness.

Social withdrawal – Although depressed teenagers don’t completely withdraw – they still maintain some friendships – they may socialize less than before, especially with their parents.


HOW YOU CAN HELP

First of all, don’t dismiss your teen’s behavior and just chalk it up to normal stress and anxiety; pay close attention if you notice an on-going depressed mood. Use the following tips to help your teen if you think that they may be suffering from depression:

Take them to a doctor – If they are complaining of aches and pains or are staying in bed more, you’ll want to rule out any possible medical cause. You’ll also want to make sure that there aren’t any organic causes for their depression, such as mononucleosis or hypothyroidism. Things like sleep deprivation and nutritional deficiencies can lead to depression as well.

Offer support – Make it abundantly clear that you are there for them no matter what. Let them know that you will support them unconditionally, but make sure not to crowd them or ask them too many questions. You don’t want to make them feel pressured or patronized.

Be gentle and persistent – Your teen may shut you out. Teenagers will often feel embarrassed or ashamed about the way they are feeling because they haven’t learned to cope with feelings of depression. Don’t let them shut you out – instead, emphasize your willingness to listen and your concern over how they feel, but make sure you respect their comfort level as well.

Listen but don’t lecture – Once your teen does begin talking, listen to what they have to say. Don’t pass judgment or criticize – often they just want to vent. Allow them to communicate and resist the urge to offer unsolicited advice which could cause them to withdraw again.

Validate their feelings – Don’t dismiss their depression or try to talk them out of it, even if you think that they might be “overreacting.” Acknowledge their feelings of pain and sadness. If you don’t, they will think that you aren’t taking them seriously, which could damage their sense of trust with you.

In addition to taking these steps, if you don’t see them coming around, you should consider having them screened for depression and seek help from therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist.

Rockland Behavioral Health Response Team is on call 24/7 should you need to speak with someone on the phone or have someone visit your home for a situation that has escalated. They offer free evaluations and support and can make referrals to agencies, doctors and support groups to help your child cope and even help you cope with your child’s behavior. Their website offers additional tips and advice at www.rocklandhelp.org.

All calls and visits are confidential. Contact RBHRT at 845-517-0400 or www.rocklandhelp.org. RBHRT also has a monthly radio show on WRCR the first Thursday of each month at 9 a.m. called “The Healthy Attitudes Show.”

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