Many Teens Experience Some Form Of Depression
As NYC therapists who work with teens, we know that many, many teens experience some measure of depression. Even if it’s not severe or severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of major depression, teens may nonetheless need attention in the form of parental intervention, family therapy or therapy with the teen. When depression is more extreme or exists alongside other concerning behaviors and emotional experiences such as challenges with sexuality, bullying, academic difficulties, relationship struggles or difficulties with friends, teens may need more serious attention.
Depression and Teens: It’s More Just Being Moody
In our teen therapy practice, we often confront the conception that teens are fundamentally, biologically and developmentally moody. This assumption comes from a few places–one being it is based in some reality. Adolescence is, of course, a unique developmental period of time. However, more often than not, we find there to be a misunderstanding on the part of adults about what’s going on in teens’ lives. While adolescence is a time of hormonal and physical changes, that doesn’t mean teens will “just grow out of it.” There’s a grave danger in dismissing adolescent malaise.
Parents And Other Adults Shouldn’t Dismiss Teen Malaise
All malaise, whatever its cause and context, is worthy of attention. There are 18 different ways we, as parents and other adults in teens’ lives, can ignore teens and not take them seriously. We simultaneously treat teens like children, while also ignoring the ways they’re vulnerable. They have many of the same problems as adults, but without much power to make serious decisions for themselves.
Parents and other adults around teens have access to resources, experience and savvy. Therefore, there is an obligation to look out for teens. There’s no need for a purely clinical designation of depression in order to see a need to get close to teens and their experiences. While this can, of course, be challenging for adults, it isn’t simply objectively difficult and certainly isn’t impossible.
The Experience Of Adolescence Itself Can Get Teens Down
Adolescence is a shit show. That shit can get teens pretty severely down. There are all kinds of things that can cause teens to be depressed. Many of the environments where teens spend their time, chiefly high schools, are depressing, brutal places.
As therapists who work with teens, it’s our job to figure out these experiences. But, just because there is a context to a teen’s depression–maybe more cultural than biological, that doesn’t mean there isn’t serious work to be done or help that’s needed. There’s no need to separate purely clinical depression from the emotional consequences of having a lot of shit to deal with. This is how we, as a practice, deal with emotionality generally, but it is especially important with teens.
Adolescence Can Be A Time When Teens Feel Stuck
Adolescence is a time of greater responsibility, expectations and independence. As a result, an emotional experience, like depression, that may have theretofore been latent may emerge or begin to present in different ways such as withdrawal, anger, drug use, greater difficulty in making friends or changes in academic performance. Even though teens have more responsibility at this age, they still have a lack of control in decision-making, which can lead to being stuck in unhealthy situations or an environment that’s not right for them. It affects their capacity to do something about it.
I say to parents sometimes that being a kid is like being buckled in the backseat of a station wagon and that car is going wherever the driver decides it’s going. There’s not much you can do about it. As teenagers, we understandably want to have more of a say in where the car is going. We also have much more of an idea of where it ought to go for our own interests.
I should mention I’m not advocating ultimate freedom for teens. It seems inevitable that there is a period of time when young people are given more and more space, while simultaneously being looked after and, yes, having some decisions made for them. Good therapy can be a place for teens where both are articulated. We need to say hard things to teens and set some limits, while also creating a space where they can make choices for themselves.
The Best Therapy For Teens Dealing With Depression Is Just Good Therapy
In all honesty, the recipe here for helping teens with depression in therapy is to just do good therapy. Half the battle is treating teens as though the circumstances of their lives and the things they’re upset about matter. Beyond giving teens’ experiences the respect they deserve, we help teens learn how to grieve disappointments, make sense of a troubling universe, protect themselves, make and keep friends, sort out sex and dating and deal with their parents. In short, we do good therapy.