9 Tips for Parenting A Child with Depression

Williams House is an adolescent comprehensive diagnostic assessment and treatment program at Lindner Center of HOPE, located in Mason, Ohio. This safe, specialized and intimate setting focuses on intensive assessment and treatment for patients age 11 to 17 (18 if still in high school). With a  patient-centered approach to treating mental illness and addiction, the staff at Lindner Center of HOPE – which includes psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker and clinical consultants – can treat each patient in an individualized way that’s unprecedented at larger hospitals and institutions.

Depression is something the staff at Lindner Center of HOPE treat every day; and it’s a serious and widespread issue affecting many teens and families. Today, Dr. Jennifer L. Shoenfelt, a Staff Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Linder Center of HOPE, shares 9 Tips for Parenting A Child with Depression:

Depression is on the rise in American teens and young adults. Data collected between 2005 and 2014, analyzed by the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, concluded that “the 12 month prevalence of major depressive episodes in adolescents increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.3% by 2014”.  This number rose from 4.5% to 5.7% in boys and 13.1% to 17.3% in girls. The reasons for this increase remain under discussion.

How does a parent know when and where to seek help? How can parents support their child or adolescent suffering from depression? Here are some general guidelines for getting started:

1. Observe your child’s behavior for idiosyncrasies or changes.

Children with depression may demonstrate low mood, irritability, anger, fear or anxiety, mood swings, disruptive or risk-taking behavior, disobedience/defiance/ illegal behavior, isolation, lack of self-care/hygiene, decreased interest in previously enjoyable activities, decreased energy, increased or decreased sleep, increased or decreased appetite, and changes in friendships or family relationships.

2. Engage your child in daily conversation or other one- on -one activity to open lines of communication.

Gently ask questions about your child’s change in mood, daily life and issues or how he or she is getting along with others. If your child expresses suicidal thoughts, such as not wanting to live or wishing he or she were dead, talks about ending his or her life, or engages in writing suicide notes – please take them directly to the local emergency room for further psychiatric evaluation.

3. Talk to your pediatrician or family doctor about your child’s mood or changes in behavior.

Arrange timely assistance for your child, perhaps through your Employee Assistance Program or through your health insurance.

4. Monitor and limit phone, computer and electronics time.

Know with whom your child is communicating.

5. Encourage a healthy and consistent sleep schedule.  

Children and teens need about 8-10 hours of sleep per night.

6. Encourage healthy eating habits.

Limit sodas, caffeine, sugar- laden foods and snacks. If your child is not eating regular meals or portions, encourage smaller, more frequent meals of healthy foods throughout the day.

7. Be consistent and firm with limit setting.

Maintain the same or even slightly more stringent rules with your child to maintain structure and avoid singling out the child with depression. Treat all children in the family equally. Be aware of your child’s whereabouts and safety at all times.

8. Safety-proof your home.

Lock up all medications, even over- the -counter medications, and seemingly harmless remedies. Secure anything in the home that could be used as a weapon, particularly firearms.

9. Ensure that you are taking care of your own well-being and mental health.

Depression can run in families. If you, as the parent, are struggling with your own mental health, it will be difficult to remain objective and supportive toward your child, who is also struggling.

Identifying child and adolescent depression and dealing with it can be overwhelming. The key is to reach out for assistance and allow others to provide their support and expertise, so that a team approach can be utilized to its fullest. Organizations such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the American Psychiatric Association are all excellent sources of information and support.

Jennifer L. Shoenfelt, MD

  • Board Certified Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist, Lindner Center of HOPE
  • Assistant Professor, University of Cincinnati, College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Assistant Professor, Wright State University, Boonshoft School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry

Mojtabai R, Olfson M, Han B. National trends in the prevalence and treatment of depression in adolescents and young girls. Pediatrics. 2016; doi: 10. 1542/peds.2016-1878.

Glowinski AL, D’Amelio G. Depression is a deadly growing threat to our youth: time to rally. Pediatrics. 2016; doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2869.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Your Adolescent. 1999. 301-304.

For more information on the Lindner Center of HOPE, visit their website here.

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