Updated: Oct 10, 2019
The Many Faces of Child and Adolescent Depression: Where to Begin?
May 31, 2018 | Craig Maguire, IMPRESSIONS FCS Inc.
Over the course of my career, I have seen a definitive and unsettling pattern of children and adolescents who are experiencing significant stress and anxiety. Although there is no one specific cause for these experiences, many times it has involved children and youth who have experienced traumatic life events, such as abuse, the death of a loved one or other various emotional and troubling conditions. Over the past 10 years however, there appears to be an on-going and consistent rise in the number of children and youth experiencing such emotional stress based largely on social conditions (involving peer relationships) and debilitating perceptions of themselves, their worth and value.
The transition from adolescence to adulthood has not necessarily ever been a smooth or easy one for most, however, through our experiences on this journey to independence, we have developed a sense of ourselves; our values, our dreams and aspirations for the future, and a growing awareness of our confidences and insecurities. These experiences have typically supported us on our journey in developing appropriate and necessarily coping skills in which to evaluate our conditions and make informed decisions on matters affecting us. Naturally, we did not always make the best choices for ourselves but, that too, was part of our journey to independence and maturity. More and more today, and in recent years, our youth seem less capable of managing the stressors they face daily and feel persistently overwhelmed with the pressures of life and living in ways that leaves many feeling defeated and with no hope in sight.
How and why this is, and continues, to be the prevailing conditions for so many youth today is truly unsettling and demands our deepest attention and diligence in finding ways to engage young people with opportunities for relief, happiness and a sense of importance in the lives of others. For many of us older folks, our parents and upbringing was not always filled with hugs and undivided attention. We certainly had loving and attentive parents however, for most of us, our parents chose to allow us to learn and develop through direct experiences and seemed to only intervene when necessary. If we got in to a fight with a peer, got detention at school, were caught shop-lifting, whatever the circumstance, we were usually more concerned with our parent’s reactions as opposed to the other party we had offended, in one way or another. Today’s parents though, to their credit, are mostly educated, working professionals who have developed and adopted a series of accountabilities in managing their home life and the raising of their children. Simply stated, they have had little to no choice. Most families require a two-parent stream of income and, for single parents, many continuously struggle to maintain a satisfying balance of work and home time in the provision of the love and support provided to their family. At first glance, one would perhaps think that youth today would be better equipped to manage effectively and cope with the conditions and situations they encounter – if for no other reason than their conscious awareness of the World around them and their active participation in such a wide-encompassing social arena that is unlike any that older generations ever experienced in our youth.
So, where do we begin in even attempting to make sense of the emotional hardships and debilitating depression experienced by so many youth? With youth suicides continuing at alarming rates, to the disturbing pathology of school shootings in recent years, when are we, as a society, going to be completely honest and determined to find effective and meaningful solutions to the dilemmas facing so many of our precious youth? Realistically, we simply cannot wait for society to find appropriate and satisfactory solutions to this on-going and, seemingly worsening, emotional hardship affecting so many of our youth. If this sentiment is in fact true, then it brings us back to the original question – where do we begin?
This article does not presume to have any solutions or enlightenments that have not already been shared by many qualified and experienced mental health practitioners around the World. The approach believed by this therapist however, is that the best (and perhaps the most effective) place to begin addressing our youth and their emotional pain must begin in the home with their parent(s). It is understood and supported that many youth who have reached such debilitating emotional states of depression will often benefit from professional intervention and this is certainly highly recommended and endorsed. For the purposes of this article however, and on attempting to find a “starting point” to prevent such conditions from ever reaching such levels, the following suggestions may prove to be of substantial benefit to many families, and their children.
Interpersonal opportunities: With the onset of modern technological advancements, most youth (and adults respectively) are routinely engaged with one form of electronic communications and social media or another. The disadvantage to this new “way of life” for many is that it excludes opportunities for many to actually have real and meaningful social interactions and relationships with others. Our youth are certainly no different and they have quickly adapted to and modelled this behaviour from the adults around them. Is it any wonder why many youth experience difficulties in developing and maintaining friendships? The honest truth is that this is a skill like any other but, without practice and a dedicated resolve to personally engaging with others in social atmospheres, and in non-technology-based applications, how do these necessary skills have any opportunity to develop and flourish? Making and keeping friends involves a degree of vulnerability and risk, no-doubt. It also involves a very significant and purposeful stage of growth and development that can be so rewarding and personally satisfying throughout one’s entire lifetime. One thing is clear however, developing real and meaningful friendships cannot be established effectively through on-line chats and social media platforms only. These mediums are only a tool in which to communicate with others but do not permit the close and interactive growth necessary for developing healthy and productive social relations and meaningful friendships. Both youth and adults alike need to be cautioned on relying solely on these technological mediums as their primary means to developing new and rewarding relationships.
Isolation and finding motivation: Most of us can relate quickly and easily that the more we isolate ourselves from others, the less motivated we become in making dedicated efforts at engaging with others in any way or purposeful manner. It becomes much easier and acceptable to continue this behaviour as it provides a stable and secure sense of safety and predictability, even though the continued isolation eventually leads to increased sadness, mood swings, poor eating and sleeping habits, and even depression. Sitting on the couch or in your room for hours on-end, day after day, is neither enjoyable or beneficial for anyone. Yes, it may bring some comfort since the outside World is safely tucked away and they are safe in their environment, but ultimately, these individuals are cheating themselves of the very important, necessary and potentially enjoyable experiences they secretly desire. It has been said that for anything worthwhile, it usually requires some hard work and effort before the rewards are realized. Finding the strength, courage and motivation to find small and pleasant activities that get you outside your home and doing activities that bring you satisfaction and enjoyment is essential to your mental health – now and forever. If you enjoy walking or jogging, become motivated to go for a walk each night after work or school. This is just one example and does not have to involve exercise or sports however, simply the act of moving and doing something purposeful will release stress within your body and mind and you will feel a sense of accomplishment in maintaining a healthy activity of your choosing.
Strengthening communications with family: Balancing work/school, family and other life accountabilities can be very draining. We are all busy!! Finding, or better yet, making time for ourselves is often a significant challenge in itself so it stands to reason that making time for others can often be problematic, as well. Every one of us needs to be consciously aware that we alone have the ability to directly affect our lives as well as the lives of others within our family. You’re busy with work demands, limited time and various accountabilities with timelines that inhibit any chance of some free time that might be possible. As harsh and unreasonable as this may sound to some, each of us needs to reflect on what is most important to us. It is not ever a matter of neglecting our responsibilities but finding acceptable ways in managing each of them. The excuse that “you are busy” is no longer acceptable or appropriate. You must make serious and concerted efforts to evaluate your time and responsibilities and find practical and reasonable solutions in which to better equip yourself, and your family, with meaningful opportunities to share in each others’ lives. Youth need to feel connected and, although many adolescents believe less parental involvement is a blessing, the reality is that they need your active listening, participation and support in their daily living. If they cannot communicate with their parents, then who? If they have few to no friends to even fill that gap, then where are they suppose to turn for support and guidance when needed? The reality is that we cannot continue to tell our children we are always here for them but rarely ever present opportunities for them to feel and know we are available to them. Depression doesn’t happen overnight – it takes a continued pattern of behaviours, thoughts and experiences for which often hopelessness, despair and isolation all contribute to debilitating conditions in living for our youth. The time and effort you demonstrate now towards your children and their productive mental health opportunities for effective growth and development will be the catalyst for developing the skills they will require to manage their stress and cope with life’s trials and tribulations throughout their lifetime.
Developing identity with confidence, pride and encouragement: Despite the many similarities of childhood that have existed between the generations, one thing appears very clear – youth today are bombarded with many more influences and societal awareness than many of us had to endure during our formative years. For many of us, the World outside our homes involved comic book heroes and collecting hockey and various sports cards to trade with our friends. We encountered experiences with bullies and were fully aware of drugs and their availability. We knew of sex but were relatively uninformed and some-what hesitant to experiment with it to a level that would pose potential hardship to ourselves, our family or others. Again, this is not a blanket statement intended to cover all but it certainly was a prevailing persona of our era as we concentrated on defining who we are and what was most important to us. Today, it is certainly a much different environment for youth. From super models to sports icons, reality tv, and an abundance of media influences, it is understandable that today’s youth have much more outside influences in their lives than the typical Saturday morning cartoons that many of us enjoyed as children.
Today, both adolescents and adults are continuously provided with messages of what is “acceptable” and what is not – from our weight to our appearance, from our clothing to our personal belongings and wealth.Finding oneself and defining our position in the World has inevitably become a set of standards imposed on us all to adapt to and meet these demanding, and often damaging, societal expectations.Individuals who choose to set their own standards to live by are often regarded as rebellious or disrespectful of today’s societal norms.With this said, these individuals accept their strengths and weaknesses, accept responsibility for their behaviours and accept that they, and only they, have the ability to affect their lives and guide their direction throughout it in the attainment of happiness and rewarding success.They understand that it means a great deal of hard work, dedication and a determination as strong as steel.Through their successes, and failures, they develop a clear sense of who they are and what they are capable of.They gain confidence in themselves and a sense of pride that comes from challenging their limitations and capitalizing on their strengths.It is often these same individuals who make the best leaders in business as they understand the vital importance of encouraging success in others and building on strengths to achieve successful work teams and organizations.
Naturally, there needs to be a balance here as well as one cannot be too rebellious and too resistant to the World we live in.Rather, it involves an inner peace and confidence in oneself that promotes and enhances their ability to deal with difficult people and situations, as they arise, with planful, meaningful and effective resolve.Perhaps this may seem easy or an over-simplification of their demeanour but the reality is that these folks find the courage and stamina to deal directly with whatever comes their way.Regardless of how these individuals gained these skills, it is essential that all of us, and especially our youth, realize that there are no easy answers in life and that anything worth achieving will require all their effort and commitment to realize.Few of us will ever reach a status of fame or fortune but this does not need to be the expectation we hold ourselves to.Rather, living a good and honest life, with love and happiness, and a sense of accomplishment and pride in those successes can be a valuable and meaningful life lived.Encourage youth to be themselves and to develop interpersonal skills in which to effectively manage their expectations of themselves, and of others.
Ultimately, no one wants to feel alone, sad and unimportant.We all desire, and more importantly, need to feel that we have a place and a purpose in our life.Although finding these has become more and more obscured in today’s society, it remains vital to life-long learning and growing opportunities for a healthy and balanced life.Encourage your youth to find themselves and the things that have meaning and importance to them.Encourage them to dream and to set goals in life.Encourage them to speak with you often on issues of importance or confusion to them.Most of all, encourage them to be comfortable with who they are, and who they are becoming.Remind them all the time that they can shape themselves in whatever manner they wish however, this cannot, and will not, occur by isolating themselves in their room for hours and hours and perpetuating a saddened belief that they don’t exist to others in any meaningful and rewarding manner.
Self-reliance and reassurance of your role and responsibility as a parent: Without-a-doubt, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. There are no books that can make you a perfect parent either. There are indeed many books and references that can strengthen your skills as a parent but none have the ability to make you perfect, in any way, shape or form. Many parents struggle with feelings of guilt or shame that they should do more or be better parents to their children but are confined with the constraints imposed upon them by their numerous responsibilities and challenges in simply providing sustenance for their family. It is important that parents understand and acknowledge that their efforts in parenting are not conditional upon their economic status, title or place/position of employment.
Rather, parenting is a conscious decision we all must make to meet the needs and demands of our children in a manner that best reflects their interests and healthy well-being.Yes, this can be challenging sometimes as today’s youth have so many outside influences to contend with during their day-to-day activities.Often, many parents find their adolescents becoming more reliant on peers and other outside influences than on them and their concern and advice as a parent.This too is natural however, we must maintain a balance, as parents, that incorporates a healthy understanding of our children’s reliance on their peers with a reasonable and thoughtful presence and guidance in assisting our adolescents to make informed decisions that affect them directly or indirectly.It is equally as important that parents understand and accept that no one knows their child better than they do.Trust in your judgments and feel reassured that you have a meaningful and positive influence in your child’s life. This is not to say that seeking professional assistance with a mental health therapist or family physician is not justifiable, in some circumstances, but it is to reinforce for parents that they have the vital history and experience with their children to know when they are experiencing extreme hardship and/or depressive states.Believing that others can resolve all your child’s issues is impractical and unrealistic.Although some parents may certainly need professional supports in managing their adolescent’s depression, the reality remains that only parents have the opportunity and availability to be a consistent and continuous source of strength, encouragement and support to their children – when they need it most.Don’t underestimate your valuable and vital contributions, even when conditions seem impossible and unsolvable.Remember that, when all is said and done, your children will always remember that you stood by their side and never waned in your dedicated commitment to their health, well-being and happiness.
This is the role and responsibility of all parents and one that our youth desperately need to recognize and have available to them as they learn, grow and develop the necessary skills that will guide them throughout their life.Parenting is not always easy but it is certainly most valuable and rewarding.We want our children to experience the best that life has to offer.If they are to ever experience this, we, as parents, first need to build a foundation upon which our children feel safe, secure and encouraged to rely on us and trust in our commitment to provide them with every opportunity available for life-long learning and personal fulfillment.
It's never too late to become the parent your children need. Be an active, engaged parent in the lives of your children and demonstrate this commitment through demonstrated behaviours and routines that continuously remind and reinforce the love and concern you have for your children. Depression can be a dangerous and life-long ailment for many. The benefits of prevention and active participation in the lives of our youth and adolescents, in gaining appropriate skills in living, is vital to the skills they will carry with them throughout their lives. No one is better equipped to teach these skills, in loving comfort and dedication, than that of parents. Please don’t under-estimate your value and importance to your child’s emotional well-being and growth.
About the Author: Craig Maguire is a proactive executive with 30+ years utilizing organizational development experience, project/case management capabilities, therapeutic counselling and intervention services, business management and administrative accountabilities, and strategic educational/coaching facilitation.
He is an inspiring leader and outstanding visioning, strategic planning and change management skills. With years of leadership and community experience, he is recognized for his passionate intuitive leadership, community investment, stakeholder engagement, enthusiasm, public speaking, and exceptional ability to motivate and engage people in proactive strategies, with emphasis on developing local, Provincial, and National partnerships and alliances.
Craig is engaged in private practice operations through his established organization, IMPRESSIONS FCS Inc. and is Provincially-licensed as a registered social worker in British Columbia, Canada.