Teen depression: Prevention begins with parental support

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Teen depression: Prevention begins with parental support

Teen depression is a serious health problem that can cause long-lasting physical and emotional problems. Not all teen depression can be prevented, but there's good news. By promoting your child's physical and mental health, you can help him or her handle stressful situations that might trigger teen depression.

What causes teen depression?

There's no single cause of teen depression. Genetics and environment may play a role. In addition, some teens are more prone to depression than are others — including children of depressed parents and children who have anxiety or behavior problems. Teen girls may be more vulnerable to depression than teen boys because girls are more likely to derive self-esteem from relationships. Some teens' relationships can be especially challenging due to early physical development that can make them look different and change the way peers treat them. Sometimes teen depression is triggered by a health problem, stress or the loss of an important person in the teen's life.

How does teen depression affect a teen?

Teens dealing with depression are more likely to experience teen pregnancy, abuse drugs and alcohol, and perform poorly at school and at work than are other teens. Teen depression is linked to an increased risk of suicide and suicide attempts, as well as a recurrence of depression in adulthood.

How can parents prevent teen depression?

You may be able to help prevent teen depression by promoting your child's physical and mental health. Research has shown the following steps can make a difference, including:

  • Praising your child's skills. A 2008 study showed that children 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 child is doing in school. If your child 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 teen depression by boosting a child's self-esteem and increasing his or her social support network. Encourage your child to get involved in extracurricular activities.
  • Encouraging physical activity. A small number of studies show that physical activity — regardless of the level of intensity — may slightly reduce teen depression and anxiety. While further studies are needed, there's no doubt that physical activity can improve your child's overall health. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adolescents get one hour or more of physical activity a day.
  • 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 child that you care by listening, showing interest in his or her problems, and respecting his or her feelings.
  • Talking to your child. One of the early warning signs of teen depression is a sense of isolation. Set aside time each day to talk to your child. This step can be crucial in preventing further isolation, withdrawal and progressive depression.

What if my child is at risk of teen depression?

If you're concerned that your child will develop teen depression, consider taking extra preventive steps. Recent research has shown some protective benefits for children of depressed parents 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 child.

Last Updated: 2009-12-03
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