At Home Behavioral Therapy Techniques You Can Try With Your Depressed Teen

“While everyone else / was living their life in color / depression froze me in place.”
-Rupi Kaur, Home Body

As Rupi Kaur explains in her poem, depression can feel like a sense of loss and emptiness. This article will help you understand your teen and their experience with depression and covers some of the signs of depression. It will also cover behavioral modification therapy techniques that you can try with your teen.

Before we go over depression and what it can look like, please remember that depression in your troubled teen can lead to great suffering, self-harm, and even suicide if it’s left untreated. Additionally, we can’t only treat depression with adjustments. Instead, it requires the help of clinically-licensed mental health practitioners. At Liahona Treatment Center, a therapeutic boarding school for troubled boys, we can help you and your troubled teen with depression. Reach out to us today for more information.

Major Depressive Disorder in Teens

Major depressive disorder (MDSE), or what’s commonly referred to as depression, is a clinically-diagnosable mental illness classified as a mood disorder. While most people experience sadness, grief, and emptiness, not everyone will experience depression. According to the DSM-5, a manual used by mental health practitioners to diagnose individuals, depression is more common in young adults ages 18-29 and young women.

Symptoms of Depression

To be diagnosed with depression, a troubled teen will need to experience at least four of the following symptoms over two weeks. Excluding suicidal thoughts and changes in weight, your teen will need to have experienced these signs daily during these two weeks.

Common symptoms of MDSE include:

  • Feelings of guilt and lack of worth. While everyone has these thoughts, a teen with depression’s feelings of worthlessness and guilt do not fit the situation and aren’t typical.
  • Feeling tired daily. Your teen might struggle with basic tasks like brushing their teeth, taking out the trash, or even bathing.
  • Frequent thoughts of suicide. Your teen might see suicide as a way of escaping uncomfortable feelings.
  • Feeling slow or restless. Your teen might constantly be fidgety and unable to focus.
  • Feeling depressed almost every day. You might hear your teen make comments like, “Life sucks” or “I feel empty inside.”
  • Showing very little interest in any activities that they used to enjoy. For example, you might notice that your teen goes from being on a sports team to talking to you about why they can’t or don’t want to go anymore.
  • Weight gain or weight loss. Your teen might eat more or less depending on how they’re feeling.
  • Difficulties sleeping. Because depression is a mood disorder, it can affect your teen’s sleep cycle.

Depression can be misdiagnosed and has serious complications if left untreated

As with other mental illnesses we’ve discussed in this series on behavioral modification therapy, depression can often be misdiagnosed with other mood disorders such as bipolar disorder or learning disorders like ADHD.

Additionally, untreated depression is often associated with physical health issues, including living a sedentary lifestyle that may lead to diabetes and cardiovascular issues. It also has mental health effects like self-harm and even suicide.

How Behavioral Modification Therapy can help your teen manage depression

To reduce the suffering caused by depression, many therapists turn toward behavioral modification therapy. Behavioral modification therapy is a type of treatment that centers on the environment in which behaviors are born and maintained. For example, many behavioral modification therapists believe that behavior is learned, which means that the environment a teen lives and grows in plays a huge role in how they behave.

Likewise, because behavior is learned, a therapist using this methodology believes that unhealthy behaviors can be unlearned, while newer, healthier behaviors are taught and encouraged. Teaching teens about behavior happens through techniques like positive and negative reinforcements.

Behavioral Therapy techniques to try at home

Encourage sharing something you’re grateful for during family time every day

To help your teen with depression, help them learn new ways of thinking that can replace their current thinking. Having a set time where you and your family talk about what you’re grateful for every day can help your teen find the beauty in everyday life.

It also models for your teen what you would like to see them doing. So, rather than just telling your teen, “you need to be more grateful!” you’re showing them what it means to be grateful. Remember, the behavior is learned!

Set small daily goals that you would like to see done

Rather than setting very high expectations for your teen that they’re not ready for, set small daily tasks for them that you would like to see them do. For example, if they’ve stopped engaging in activities, reward them for things like when they choose to come and sit with the family. By rewarding them for the small wins, you help them feel a sense of achievement.

Encourage movement and play

Depression affects energy-levels and mood, so it can make your teen live a very sedentary and inactive lifestyle. To help your teen with depression, encourage activities that they used enjoy their illness took over.

For example, try going on bike rides together as a family or with friends, turn music on while you clean and dance (so that your teen can see that movement doesn’t have to be tedious and daunting), or even sign your teen up for a class that they might have mentioned a while back.

Your teen will still need guided help

As you try these different techniques, please remember that your teen will still need guided help. At a therapeutic boarding school like Liahona, we help your teen structure their daily life, help them maintain their routines, and encourage them to get outside of their comfort zone.

At our center, we believe that the goal of using these therapies is to help reduce suffering--whether it’s suffering caused by uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, or even unhealthy behaviors.

We also value our teens and make sure that they feel seen and heard. These are two things that can help individuals with depression and other mental illnesses.

Reach out to us today to find out more about our center and how we can help your teen.

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