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Is your teen depressed or just "down"?

The pandemic has forced us to live a “new normal” for the foreseeable future. For children and teenagers in Hong Kong, this means fewer opportunities to socialise, play sports and participate in other activities. At a time when teens in particular are developmentally driven to seek independence and bond strongly with their peers, the new normal can feel especially bleak.

In the words of one Hong Kong teen, “It’s a huge downer.”

If your teen is also feeling down about current circumstances, don’t worry – it’s normal. But parents should be on alert for signs that teens are struggling with depression. Spotting troubling signs can be difficult with teens often being moody, in addition to facing the rigours of social distancing.

Here’s what to look for:

  • persistent sadness and irritability, even when circumstances change (ex. going back to school)
  • changes in eating patterns, loss or gain in weight
  • changes in sleep patterns, sleeping in excess or bouts of insomnia
  • loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • loss of interest in socialising and staying connected to friends
  • sluggishness and disengagement
  • feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness
  • suicidal thoughts, attempts of suicide

With the exception of the last one, if any of these symptoms are present for more than two weeks, your teen may be depressed. Watch them closely and contact a professional if symptoms continue to persist.

If your child ever attempts suicide, seek help immediately by calling 999 or taking your child directly to an emergency room.

What You Can Do
If you sense your child slipping into a depressed state, there are ways parents can help. These tips will help your teen recognise their feelings, change their thinking patterns, and employ effective tools against further emotional decline.
  1. Stay flexible – “catastrophizing”, or making things out to be much worse than they actually are, is a negative thought pattern that is common among those who are depressed. Help your child to avoid exaggerating and focusing on the worst case scenario. As a parent be sure to model a positive, flexible attitude in the face of our current uncertainty.
  2. Circle of control – there are few things, outside ourselves, that we can actually control. The pandemic, the behaviour of friends, school closures – none of these are within our control. We can control our choices, reactions, and words. Talk about this with your teen, and teach them to let go of everything else.
  3. Get moving – research shows the exercise has a powerful ability to raise mood and even protect against depression. Teens require regular exercise for health and development during normal times. Be sure they continue to get it during this period of uncertainty.
  4. Go outside – spending as little as 20 minutes a day in green spaces, such as gardens and parks in urban areas, or undeveloped/underdeveloped land with natural vegetation, significantly lowers stress hormones, raises mood, and eases anxiety. 
  5. Give back – helping others benefits both those who give and those who receive. Being part of a group, focusing on others, and effecting meaningful change is a powerful mood lifter. Whether it is a beach clean up, a “kindness walk”, or helping with a collection drive, being part of something to make things better makes you feel better.
  6. Make plans – the act of making plans, following through, and reflecting back makes people feel accomplished and capable, and less helpless and hopeless. Make fun plans with your teen. Schedule a Zoom call with family, organise a hike with friends, or find an online art class – whatever your teen enjoys.

These suggestions will help lift your teen’s mood (and yours too!). But if your teen continues to show troubling signs that may point to depression, contact the BFDC. We can help.