The recent South African National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey revealed some disturbing trends among South African youth. It found that 24% of those surveyed between Grade 8 to Grade 11 had experienced feelings of depression, hopelessness and sadness, while a further 21% had attempted suicide at least once.
Alarmingly, the same studies show that in the large Cape Town metropole area, 41% of teens surveyed experienced depression, 16% anxiety and 21% Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What are the warning signs?
Although any of the signs outlined below can occur in children who are not depressed, when seen together, nearly every day, they are red flags for depression and should never be ignored. Remember, your teen is not making the symptoms up. What looks like laziness or crankiness can be symptoms of depression. Here are the signs to look out for:
- A sad or irritable mood for most of the day.
- Not enjoying things that used to make them happy.
- A marked change in weight or eating habits.
- Sleeping habits – too little at night or too much during the day.
- No longer wanting to be with family or friends.
- A lack of energy or feeling unable to do simple tasks.
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Low self-esteem.
- Trouble focusing or making choices.
- A drop in school grades.
- Not caring about what happens in the future.
- Aches and pains when nothing is really wrong.
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
What should I do if I think my teen is depressed?
- Talk to your child about his/her feelings and the things happening at home and at school that may be bothering him/her.
- Talk to your family doctor. Some medical problems can cause depression. Your doctor may recommend psychotherapy (counseling to help with emotions and behavior) or medication for depression.
- Try and arrange for a medical professional to screen your teen for depression every year from ages 12 through 21 (suicide is now a leading cause of death among adolescents). Treat any thoughts of suicide as an emergency.
How can I help?
Promote good health
- The basics for good mental health include a healthy diet, enough sleep, exercise, and positive connections with other people at home and at school.
- Limit screen time and encourage physical activity or just fun interactions with friends or family to help develop positive connections with others.
- One-on-one time with parents, praise for good behavior, encouragement for seeking help and affirming your child’s strengths will help build the parent-child bond.
Provide safety and security
- Talk with your child about bullying. Being the victim of bullying is a major cause of mental health problems.
- Look for grief or loss issues. Seek help if problems with grief do not get better. If you as a parent are grieving a loss, get help and find additional support for your teen.
- Help reduce stress! Most teens have low stress tolerance. Your stress or other stresses at home or school are amplified and affect your child’s health.
Help your teen learn thinking and coping skills
- Help your teen relax with physical and creative activities. Focus on his/her strengths.
- Talk to and listen to your child with love and support. Encourage teens to share their feelings including thoughts of death or suicide. Reassure them that this is very common with depression.
- Help your teen look at problems in a more positive and constructive way.
- Break down problems or tasks into smaller steps so your teen can be successful.
Make a safety plan
- Follow the treatment plan. Make sure your teen attends therapy and takes any medicine as directed.
- Treatment works, but it may take a few weeks. The depressed teen may not recognize changes in mood right away and may become discouraged with initial side effects of treatments (such as antidepressants).
- Develop a list of people to call when feelings get worse.
- Watch for the risk factors for suicide. These include talking about suicide in person or on the internet, giving away belongings, increased thoughts about death, and substance abuse.
- Locate telephone numbers for your teen’s doctor and therapist, and the local mental health crisis response contact details.
SADAG SA Depression and Anxiety Group 24hr Helpline: 0800 12 13 14
Suicidal Emergency contact: 0800 567 567.
Childline South Africa – 24-hour toll-free helpline: 08000 55 555. Website: www.childline.org.za
Assistance from trained counsellors. Information, support and assistance to children and their families. Issues dealt with include physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, behavioural problems, legal advice, and trafficking.