One of the simplest things you can do to help your teen combat mild depression is to help them be more selfless. These days the commonly held belief is that we all need to work on ourselves; we need to take time out for ourselves; we need to focus on our own internal growth. If we would spend extra effort improving then we’d find happiness. Since happiness is the opposite of depressed, everything would get better, right?
If this is such sage advice, why hasn’t it worked yet? Why are people feeling lonely, purposeless, aimless, and easily overwhelmed?
The answer can be found by looking down and looking up. If you look at ants you will notice they are almost always working in teams. They are following one another in a line, and they live in a colony. Ants even carry their dead back to the nest. If you look all the way up the the heavens, you see that even God himself does not work alone. He has Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Nothing about the way the world works indicates that we are meant to fix ourselves. Part of the reason I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE working with teens is that they are still living in a family. While the family may come broken, piecemeal or otherwise, there are always people around the teens. The healing in my clients has come from adjustments made to their relationships far more often than adjustments to their inner selves. Even when they adjust their inner selves, they don’t seem to feel content until their relationships begin to change.
I see a great number of girls who come because they are struggling with body image. They are trying to reach perfection on the outside. A perfect body is a lonely, isolated pursuit. Even if these girls achieve their desired appearance, they are unhappy and unfulfilled. Again, we were created to be in relationship with others.
Now that you know the background, you can likely see how this will relate to your child’s depression. Stop encouraging your depressed teenager to work on him or herself. Instead, push your teenager to work on someone else or something else. Take them down to the soup kitchen on Saturday. Have them volunteer at the YMCA to play with kids after school. Take them to the library and have them volunteer in the Friends of the Library bookstore. Sign them up for the Big Brother/Big Sister program (as the big brother or sister).
The antidote to mild depression is to get into relationship and give of yourself (Please note, for more severe clinical depression the most important thing to do is seek professional help. Clinical depression is not resolved with a simple change of attitude or change of scene. It is dangerous and requires intervention).
So, when you see your teenager tonight, tell them you know how to help them perk up. Don’t make this optional. Get them involved in helping someone else and watch them begin to find a sense of joy. If you work alongside them, you’ll get to experience that joy and you’ll strengthen your relationship with your teenager!
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT