Talking about depression

It’s important to be observant about your young person and notice what’s going on. As we’ve discussed, ‘normal’ teenage behaviour can be similar to the behaviour of depressed teenagers so symptoms can be hard to spot. It’s useful to ‘keep an eye’ on things to see whether any changes are just a short-term phase or part of more lasting difficulties. It’s also important to be open about your concerns with your young person, which you may feel very apprehensive about. For many people, mental health still carries with it a stigma, you may feel unsure of what to say or even worry about making things worse.

Despite any concerns that you might have, it’s definitely worth trying to talk about them. Show an interest in your child, but be prepared for them not to open up or confide in you the first time your concerns are highlighted. Start out gently, and use open-ended questions (ones that can’t be answered with just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’). Here are some that might be useful for you to ask:

  • I’ve noticed that you’ve been finding school (or something else) difficult lately. How are you feeling about it?
  • I’ve just noticed that you seem sad a lot of the time. How have you been feeling recently?
  • You seem to be spending a lot of time on your own lately and I just wondered if there was anything bothering you and how I could help?
  • Are you still enjoying ___(name a usual hobby or activity)? What is still enjoyable about it and what are you finding more challenging?

It’s important that the young person does not feel criticised or judged – make sure that they know you’re there for them, even if they’re not ready to talk about their difficulties. One of the most important things you can do for your child is to let them know that you’re available to listen when they are ready to talk. Take them seriously even if what they tell you doesn’t make immediate sense. Also, think about when might be the best time to talk to them. Sometimes this can be when you’re both involved in another activity (eg cooking the dinner) or when you’re driving somewhere together (it can help to have a conversation when you’re sitting side by side rather than facing each other).

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This article is from the free online course:

Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

University of Reading