Adolescent Depression & Anxiety: A Teenager’s Perspective

Dr Veloso from Relational Minds chats to J to get a teenager’s perspective on adolescent depression and anxiety. How parents and teachers can support a young person who is struggling, and what signs to look out for.

Alberto Veloso
G’day again, everyone, Dr. Bertie here from Relational Minds, progressing our mission to support parents to help their kids through their emotional development, especially if they’ve had some troubles with mental health difficulties. This week, we’re in for a bit of a treat. I’m really proud to introduce my daughter who we will call J, who volunteered to present and discuss some of her experiences and ideas about how teenagers might experience depression and anxiety. And we really hope that it will inspire and help parents to understand their kids a little bit more. So without further ado, I’ll introduce J. And I’m really grateful for her to be part of this interview.

Thanks for your help today, J. So I was wondering if you could help our audience maybe share some ideas about what are some things that parents… would be useful for parents to know about adolescent depression, or teenagers with depression or anxiety?

J
Well, first of all, that depression isn’t like… can’t be seen typically in facial expressions, like it’s not just stereotypical, sad all the time, grey cloud over their head, but it’s just like, a state of mind. And then they can just stop doing the things that they enjoy. And just start distancing themselves and stuff. It’s not always visual.

Alberto Veloso
So it’s quite subtle, that’s what you’re saying.

J
You won’t always know.

Alberto Veloso
Yeah. How would a parent know? Like, what are some things that a parent would notice that and make them think, “oh, what if my child’s depressed?”

J
Maybe just not being excited for things that they would usually be excited for. As your parent, you would know what your kid likes and likes to do and everything. Usually sleeping a lot. And just lack of motivation to do anything, really. They’re the usual signs.

Alberto Veloso
Okay. So are you saying that, like, a teenager with depression won’t always look really sad all the time?

J
No.

Alberto Veloso
And like, like our typical way of understanding depression?

J
Yeah. Because sometimes, depressed people can put on a face, pretend that they’re happy, they can still be smiling and stuff, they can still have times where they’re laughing or whatever, but deep inside, they’re sad or hurting or something deeper is going on. You can’t see it from the surface.

Alberto Veloso
What about anxiety? Like, what does that feel like, and how would that affect things like your sleeping? Or maybe you can comment on this is that, you know, parents often talk about that their kids are always up at night. What do you think’s going on for that teenager?

J
Well, parents usually think phones keep kids up at night, which is sometimes the case but it’s also anxiety, having a lot of anxiety, in general about specific things just makes you think a lot and worry a lot. And when you’re thinking that like, there are times when you’re supposed to when you’re in bed, you’re supposed to sleep, settle down, your brain will get tired. But if your brain still is active and you’re thinking about all this stuff, it just makes it really hard to sleep and just block it all out. So that’s why they’d lose sleep sometimes because they’re anxious and keep thinking about some things.

Alberto Veloso
Yeah. And how would a teenager manage that, do you think? What would the parents notice? That maybe they’re really anxious and they can’t sleep? And what would they be doing?

J
Well, they can go and try and distract themselves, like, read a book, go on their phone.

Alberto Veloso
So you’re saying like, the phone is actually – most teenagers would use the phone as a coping thing…

J
Yeah because the phone can sometimes be a distraction from like, your thoughts. Or just like watching something or listening to something to try and just focus on one thing instead of letting your mind wander. If you focus on one thing, then it will just like sort of – you won’t realise that, that it just settles your mind, like how they always say you should count sheep to get you go to sleep. Like if you just focus on counting those sheep, you will eventually get tired because you’re only thinking about the one thing, so your brain is resting.

Alberto Veloso
Yep. Let’s just unpack that a little bit from a brain science perspective. J’s comments about how teenagers may not look like they’re depressed is an important one because for an adult who becomes depressed, they tend to get really obvious in terms of the lowness of their mood and the negativity of their thoughts. So what happens is, our moods, as a human being will generally fluctuate anyway, from slightly high or slightly low. And we usually have a bit of a middle ground. And our moods will fluctuate. For an adult, when they become depressed that fluctuation continues, but it’s really obvious that they are at a much lower baseline and their moods are significantly lower. And it affects their energy levels, and sleep and energy and motivation and enjoyment and mood.

Now, for an adolescent, what you find is that their fluctuations are a lot more extreme, just normally. So normal adolescent’s moods, now this has been documented many times before, where they’ve asked adolescents to rate their moods. And adolescents who aren’t depressed have moods that really fluctuate a lot through the day. And then when they’re depressed, the same thing happens. So their moods will drop, but their fluctuations or the degree of fluctuations will continue. So there will be times where you won’t see them as depressed. But the depths of their depression can sometimes be a lot worse than an adult. The other feature that we might need to remember is that an adult’s primary symptom when they’re depressed will be low mood. Whereas sometimes for an adolescent, their primary symptom might be irritability. So they might be a bit more snappy, they might be less motivated, which means that you need to ask them more, which means that you will find more conflict. So that in itself might be the primary symptom for an adolescent with depression. So it’s important to remember that and keep an eye on that, that they might not look necessarily as depressed. And this comes out a lot, because sometimes we will say, Well, you know, they seem to be out playing with their friends, they can’t be depressed. So it’s important that doesn’t necessarily mean the case.

The next thing that J will discuss is about school, because it is very clear that school attendance drops when mental health difficulties are involved. And it’s a real struggle for parents and teachers about how to support these kids who are not able to get to school, or don’t feel comfortable at school, and how to manage that. So these are things that we’d really like to continue our conversations over. And let’s see what J’s got to say about how depression and anxiety might be impacting a young person and their schooling.

What about school – so you know, the impact of depression or anxiety at school? Like, I mean, from what you know, and people you’ve spoken to. So what do you think is the biggest impact on school if you’re depressed or anxious?

J
Well, if you’re anxious or depressed, you can have lack of motivation, like in school, like trying in classes, or even going to school in general.

Alberto Veloso
Yeah, so you’d turn up, you’d end up going to school less often you reckon?

J
Yeah, you’d be more absent from school, maybe, like not caring that much about how you’re doing. And just, I don’t know, school becoming an anxiety thing like you’re anxious to go to school. And then with anxiety comes avoidance. Sometimes wouldn’t go to school for a while, and that can be damaging your future.

Alberto Veloso
And on that, are there kind of ideas you have about what would the best way be for a school to approach a young person like that, who’s struggling to get there or because of their emotions?

J
Well, if they are noticing a student’s been away or acting differently than I think they should just discreetly check up on them, like send them an email or ask to chat. Just reassure them that they’re not in trouble and everything. Just be gentle and kind. And don’t take pity on them or anything. Just really show them that. Like this is for everyone who’s around a person with anxiety or depression. They should just be understanding and open and then typically with school, they can just say how they might be able to help in school like, you know.

Alberto Veloso
Yeah. And how would you – what about -what would be a school’s approach to someone who hasn’t been attending school and is finding it hard to come back to school? Like, what would you suggest? In what you know, and people you’ve spoken to? Like, what are some of the things that would actually help a young person get back to school?

J
Well, it can be hard to go straight back into a full five days a week, school routine. So maybe just staggering it, taking it slowly, trying to get back into that routine, but not going head on straight back into it. So maybe going in one or two days a week, or maybe going everyday, but only staying for like two classes. Just trying, and still keep trying to keep up with work. But like keeping the teachers informed and stuff so that they can assist you and understand. Because if the way is lifted on like, some homework or something, that can reduce, like anxiety about that homework.

Alberto Veloso
Yeah. And finally, you know, and this probably goes to both teachers and parents, but what are some things that you would suggest that, you know, that teenagers would find helpful in terms of an attitude that a parent or a teacher might hold about the young person who’s depressed or an approach that that that they might take. What are some ideas that come to your mind about that?

J
Well, just recognise that they are human. And everyone goes through times in their lives like that, like they’re down or unmotivated. And just whatever views you have, like on a biggest scale, like, you’d have to go to school, or something like that, just think about the person individually, and how you could help them to get back to that thing. Like never, it’s not going to help if you’re forcing anyone to do anything. Or if you’re like, getting angry at them. Just really showing them that you understand that you’re on their side. And you’re trying to help them instead of like, going against them.

Alberto Veloso
Yeah, because I guess what you’re saying is that, you know, you’re a young person who’s struggling, and then if your parents are getting frustrated at you, then that can really impact how you feel even more.

J
Especially because your parents are your safe people, like you’d want them to be able to comfort you, you can go back to them. So just try not to… it’s easy to like ruin a relationship that way. And like, trust is a big thing. Trust that your child’s not lying or anything. And just yeah, believe and understand.

Alberto Veloso
I hope that you found J’s insights helpful. I want to disclose that this interview wasn’t scripted at all. I’m really, really grateful for J for giving her insights and giving her time. And she is really motivated to try and help other young people with their experience of depression and anxiety, and to spread that message that you’re not alone. And that your parents can understand you and support you. And hopefully, this video has helped a little bit to help parents to know, what are some of the things that they can do with their attitude, the attitudes that they can hold to build that trust. Like what J said that trust is really important. So thanks for your time again today and we’ll see you next time.

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