When someone we love is hurting- it hurts us, too.
We want to jump in to make things better for them.
When it comes to loving a teenager with depression, there’s a few things you should know—-
and I’m going to share them with you in this video:
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As a teen therapist, I happen to know a LOT of teenagers who have depression, and even more who are friends with or dating someone with depression. You probably do, too given a recent study found that there were an estimated 3.2 million teenagers age 12-17 in the US who experienced at least one depressive episode (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml#part_155031).
While you already know that every teenager is different and unique in their own way, here are a few common things you will find helpful to consider when you love and care for a teenager with depression.
Stop Trying to Fix It
When someone we love is hurting, we hurt, too. It’s human to want to jump in and fix things. The thing is, this rarely works- even if you’re advice is GOLD- no one likes to be told what to do, especially when you’re a teenager.
Instead of jumping in with a case of the “shoulds” - stay curious and focus on understanding and getting clear on what they’re needing from you.
Sometimes just listening with a kind ear is MORE than enough!
(Psst- it’s one of the reasons why seeing a therapist is a so great!) And if you have some great advice you think could help- ask them for permission first.
Don’t Tell Them To Just Be Positive
This one makes me cringe.
It’s like telling someone who has a broken ankle they can run a 5k if they just start walking. Depression isn’t the same thing as sadness. While working on your changing your thinking can be part of the treatment for depression, it isn’t that simple. You can’t run before you walk, and you can’t walk before you heal. When you ask a person with Depression to do something they aren’t ready or able to do it, you perpetuate their feeling of helplessness, like there’s something wrong with them that they can’t just “be” positive.
Instead, tell them you see how hard this is. Tell them I love you. I am here for you. You don’t need to be anything other than who you are.
They Won’t Look Sad or Depressed Some Days
Here’s the thing with Depression- you get some good days, in there. You can even get a spell of good weeks and months!
This can be confusing if you don’t understand that there can be flare-ups from time to time.
It isn’t necessarily anyone or anything’s fault. Though seeing a therapist can help you figure out a coping ahead plan so you can minimize the intensity, impact, or event frequency of flare-ups. I know people like to say “An apple a day keeps the Doctor away” - I’d like to suggest “Engaging in Self-Care each day keeps the Depression away.”
Savor these moments with them.
It’s Not Personal
One of the tricky things about Depression is that it makes you think you’re a burden to others. This can lead to the teens you love doing things to separate of isolate themselves, like literally spending their time alone, opting out of invitations from others, or even picking fights. Depression makes you think you’re not good enough and that you’re not worthy of love.
When you hate yourself, it’s hard to trust that others can love you.
We believe what we tell ourselves, and we seek to confirm that it’s true. So you may find yourselves in situations where the person you love is feeling so unlovable that they start acting out in ways that make it easy to want to separate yourself. Do not mishear me here- if someone if not behaving in a way that is healthy or acceptable to you- you do not have to tolerate this- even if it’s part of their condition. But you can set a limit in a loving way.
Instead of leaving it at “I can’t be around you when you’re like this” let them know “When you can talk to me kindly, I’ll be ready to listen and talk with you.” See the difference there? One gives the message of rejection, where the other is setting a limit.
If they start talking about hurting themselves or death and dying - take them seriously!
In the US you can text the crisis line anytime at 741-741 for support. You are not expected to evaluate someone’s mental health. That’s why there are specialists who are trained specifically to assess and link people up to the right care and supports. Make use of us!
If there is a physical emergency, like someone has already injured themselves, or they could act on their thoughts of dying- call 911 or bring them to your local emergency department. You can’t be there for them if they aren’t alive.
Whatever you do - just make sure you are honest, genuine and validate that their experience is real and makes sense.
We all just want to know that we’re not crazy.
Having a mental health condition does not mean you’re crazy and you’re not crazy for loving someone with depression.
And if you’re ready to start seeing a therapist, make sure you reach out to someone local to you. If you happen to live in the Woodbridge, CT area, we’d love to connect with you here:
If you are concerned that you, or someone you know, may be considering killing themselves, please connect them with help.
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