• Beneath the Surface – Understanding Teenage Depression | Kristi Hugstad | Episode 111

  • understanding teenage depressionDepression is a surprisingly common health concern in teens yet most parents don’t understand depression or recognize the warning signs. Understanding teenage depression helps parents and other adults recognize when a problem may be forming and allows them to intervene early. Mighty Parenting podcast host Sandy Fowler discusses teen depression with expert Kristi Hugstad. They share what depression really is and what it is not, what it looks like, and the warning signs that a teen is depressed. Get strategies for dealing with depression and the questions parents need to ask.



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    A Favorite Quote from the Show: 

    “When kids don’t know how to navigate depression they can turn to drugs, alcohol, self-harm, and other destructive behaviors to numb the pain.”

    High Points of Our Conversation on Understanding Depression in Teenagers:

    understanding teenage depression to prevent addiction and suicideAfter Kristi’s husband died by suicide she wanted to use her pain to help other people so they never had to experience what she was going through.

    Parents wonder what teens are thinking when they do things. Mostly they are responding to their more primitive instincts. The prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain responsible for reasoning and higher thought, doesn’t mature until around age 25. This means the ability to make good decisions isn’t really there. Our teenagers are essentially acting on impulse.

    Parents need to provide guidance that incorporates those higher thinking skills. They need to support and guide teens, teaching them how to make good choices. 

    Due to the brain’s structure, teens are more influenced by peers and act more impulsively.

    They are susceptible to teenage depression. This can be aggravated by social media and the pressure to belong and be liked.

    Once in a depressive state, teenagers are more likely to use and abuse drugs, alcohol, food, and technology, or self-harm in order to numb the emotional pain.

    Kids can blame themselves when a parent suffers from depression. They tend to own it and take it on as their fault. Talking openly with them about the fact that you’re dealing with depression and some of the tools you are using can help alleviate this.

    Teenage depression is more than sadness. Sadness that lasts more than a couple weeks, that stays even when life is good is likely depression. Depression may be situational or chronic but, either way, it requires professional help. 

    Depression can look like sadness and lethargy but it can also come out as anger.

    Parents need to know what teenage depression is and be familiar with the warning signs. We want to recognize it early and get our kids or ourselves professional help. The earlier we intervene the easier it can be to manage.

    Keep the lines of communication open so your child knows they can come to you.

    Have an early conversation with your teen and ask them which adult they feel they could go to if they experience emotions they don’t know how to handle or they feel depressed. This may not be a parent and that’s okay.

    Our kids tend not to talk to us about these emotional issues because they don’t want to disappoint us or be judged.

    There are strategies for preventing depression. Model and encourage a healthy lifestyle that includes things like moving, getting outside, and eating healthy. If you or your teen feel depressed, try to get out of bed and move. During depression our dopamine levels drop and we want to get those back up.

    We need to teach both adults and kids to talk about our mental health. It is important to be open to treatment whenever needed.

    There’s a tendency to “wait until it passes”. If your child broke their leg or had cancer, would you tell them to wait until it passes? Depression has a physiological cause and treatment helps so keep those lines of communication open and utilize treatment when needed.

    Parents are often willing to talk but don’t know how to start the conversation. Here are a few tips from Kristi’s book:

      • “I’ve noticed you’ve been avoiding me and all your friends. Why? I want to know what’s going on. Will you talk to me about it?”
      • “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you but I want to help in any way I can.”
      • “I understand you want to solve this by yourself but if you let me help, we’ll make it together.”
      • “What are some things you do or people you turn to when you feel down?”
      • “When has someone said something to you that made you feel better? What did they say and why did it help?”

    Resources Mentioned in Show:

    Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide to Reaching Out When You or Your Friend Is in Crisis

    Warning Signs: A Parenting Guide for Discovering if Your Teen is at Risk for Depression, Addiction or Suicide. 

    Emergency lines for emotional support and suicidal thoughts:

    • Phone call: 1-800-273-TALK 
    • Text line: Text any word like “hi” “go” or “help” to 741-741

    Trained individuals will walk you through the moment and help you identify resources you may need to help you.

    The Mighty Parenting store has wallet cards and 4×6 cards that have stress and anxiety relief tips on one side and these emergency numbers on the back. They are great reminders for our kids and us.

    Our Guest Kristi Hugstad:

    Kristi Hugstad - suicide prevention expertKristi Hugstad is the author of Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide to Reaching Out when You or Your Friend Is in Crisis. Ever since her husband completed suicide in 2012, after years of struggling with clinical depression, by running in front of a train, she has dedicated her life to helping to abolish the stigma of mental illness and suicide. A certified grief recovery specialist and a grief and loss facilitator for recovering addicts at South Coast Behavioral Health, Kristi frequently speaks at high schools. She is also the host of The Grief Girl podcast.

    To learn more or connect with our guest visit https://www.thegriefgirl.com