Connection. Closeness. Joy. Laughter. Rest. Abundance.
At Restoring Relationships, we’re starting to talk about how we yearn for these things, and how the holidays can be so painful because yearning is NOT the same as experiencing. We’re talking about how, even when we try to show up, try to remember what we’re grateful for, try to engage, the holidays bring up a feeling of not enough, and how going to one more family dinner, one more classroom celebration, or one more holiday party ACTUALLY triggers deep feelings of anger, sadness, disappointment, loneliness, and then a tremendous rush of guilt and a fervent wish to hide and keep secret what’s really going on.
No one is to blame here. The combination of intense holiday activity with the reality that relationships can be painful, separation between people happens, and mental health needs are real can shift into high gear this time of year.
Now picture adding the emotions and needs of adolescence, the academic pressure facing students at the end of the semester, and the intense struggle of depression some teens may be living with.
Teens are no different when it comes to having heightened expectations of themselves and others during the holidays. Teens living with situational depression (brought on by an identified event or ongoing chronic stress) or clinical depression (severe enough that it interferes with daily life) can feel extra stress during this time of year.
Parents often remember their teen as the child they once were over the holidays. That person might have been much happier over Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or Easter. Of course parents know that their teen had different thoughts, feelings, and needs as a child; what can sneak up on us is how the sadness, low self worth, crying, irritability, or suicidal thoughts don’t take a vacation even though the holiday that’s being celebrated has given families the chance to feel loved and happy with each other.
If your teen is living with depression, and the holidays are coming up fast and you’re worried, you’re not alone. Sadly, the National Institute for Mental Health reports that in 2017, 3.2 million adolescents had at least one major depressive episode. That represents 13.3% of the adolescent population in the U.S.
If you’re going through this-what about a small change for the holidays this year?
Expectations can be so high right now. What about talking with your teen and decide together which expectations you could revise so they align with current needs and emotions? Maybe this means a quieter get-together, shortening travel time, or leaving a party earlier than usual.
People feeling the low self worth and anxiety of depression are often struggling to show up for everyday obligations; the holiday season can make it almost impossible to be comfortable in your own skin. Maybe this year it’s ok if your depressed teen doesn’t participate in every activity and retreats to their room. Sometimes, as I wrote about last week, this can help to support emotional regulation and invite increased calm so they CAN join in later.
One of the most painful aspects of living with depression is not being able to use everyday social skills due to the intense urge to isolate, having negative thoughts about themselves or others, or feeling irritable. This means teens experiencing depression have much less access to being polite, respectful, and showing interest in others. Now is not the time to show your teen off by talking about their accomplishments or their future, even if you think it might make them feel better in the moment. It won’t. The very things we all rely on for succeeding at our goals – positive self talk, energy, a sense of well being, hopefulness- are in very short supply for people who feel depressed. Being thrust into the spotlight when living with depression shines a painful light on what’s going wrong with goal succession, not what’s working. What about a check-in, close physical contact if it looks available, encouragement, a private joke instead? Just this year.
It’s MOST likely your teen won’t feel depressed for a long time. These suggestions are for right now, not forever.
Please don’t wait to reach out for mental health support if you think your teen might be feeling depressed, as untreated situational depression can lead to clinical depression.
BUT – when called for, could these suggestions keep you connected? The way I see it, this is using mutual respect, and faith that together, parents and their teens can tackle anything.
Every day, I’m reminded of the fierce, creative, and unending love parents have for their teens! Leave me a comment or question about this topic. Tell me how you work to support your child’s mental health needs over the holidays! And remember, I’m parenting right alongside you.