With the ever-increasing number of online bullying cases, stressful current news events, and stresses from online schooling, many more teenagers are falling into the depression danger zone. Anxieties are running high and the isolation with family members can cause a lot of conflict and aggravation.
With teens being stuck at home, they are less likely to see their friends, talk to their peers, or participate in clubs, sports, or other activities they once did on a regular basis. While it may not seem like those activities would be that important, they are essential for teens in building friendships, learning comradery, having a structured schedule, and finding time to engage in what they love to do.
Here we will examine the depression danger zone, how teens are slipping into it, how the current issues can lead to teen depression, and ways to avoid the depression danger zone altogether.
The Depression Danger Zone
The depression danger zone can be defined as the optimal conditions for a teen to slip into a depression. Many parents are unaware of how easily this can occur when teens’ schedules are turned upside down or in any way altered. Teens are creatures of habit – they know what they are doing most every minute of every day. When that schedule is interrupted, it creates cognitive dissonance that they may not be able to deal with.
Cognitive dissonance, a theory that has been around since 1959, states that when we engage in certain behaviors that are counter-intuitive, it creates an uncomfortable state of mind and body. Since teens are used to having a set schedule and a certain standard of public behavior, when those are turned upside down, they can become uncomfortable both mentally and physically.
When this discomfort is not addressed, it can lead to states of confusion, unhappiness, anxiety, or any combination of these or other emotions. When these states are not addressed, it is not long before the teen starts to feel depressed. This is the epitome of the depression danger zone.
This is a critical juncture where parents or medical professionals can intervene to help the teen deal with the discomfort they are feeling both mentally and physically. If the situation is not addressed, the teen can feel more lonely, more out of step, and more isolated than they already are.
There is a relatively short period of time when your teen can be taken out of the depression danger zone before they need medical intervention. Check in with your child daily to ensure they feel like their needs are being attended to, they are still connected with their peers, and that they still feel connected to the outside world. Encourage your child to be completely honest – with no fear of recriminations – and then help them find ways to improve their mental and physical states of being.
Falling into The Zone
Teen depression isn’t a weakness or something that they can talk themselves out of — there are serious consequences to untreated depression. The condition requires long-term treatment. Depression symptoms can be mild or severe, but changes in your teen’s behavior and emotions can be subtle.
Once a teen starts falling into the zone, it is harder to pull them back. Above all else, parents must be aware of their teen’s mood, eating habits, sleeping habits, and general behavior. There are specific signs of depression in terms of emotions and behavior that can alert parents that their teen is falling into the depression zone:
- Feelings of sadness, including unprovoked crying spells
- Frustration or anger, even over small matters
- Feeling hopeless
- Irritable or annoyed
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Unprovoked conflict with family or friends
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Fixation on past failures
- Exaggerated self-criticism
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
- Tiredness and loss of energy
- Can’t sleep or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite
- Agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking, or movements
- Frequent unexplained body aches and headaches
- Not paying attention to personal hygiene or appearance
- Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out
Now, it is important for parents to realize there is a difference between moods and behaviors that indicate depression and normal teenage angst. If there is a constellation of symptoms from the list that persist for more than a few days, it would be wise to talk with your teen and considering getting professional help.
While everyday stresses like school and peer relationships can often lead a teen into the depression danger zone, when the nation is in crisis, the onset of depression is both more likely and could happen more quickly.
Current Events and The Zone
For many adults, multiple ongoing crises in the news have led to mental health issues of their own. Teens could be getting lost in the mix. Parents are so worried about feeding their families and helping their kids with school, they may miss the signs of falling into the zone because of the stress around all of the other issues happening at once.
Taking care of your emotional health during an emergency will help you maintain clear, rational thinking and be proactive when urgent needs to protect yourself and your family arise. Self-care during this trying time will aid in long-term healing, both emotionally and physically. The CDC recommends that all families make time for the following:
- Be mindful of your body–eat healthy meals, exercise every day, and get plenty of sleep. Do not use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
- Connect with people– Share your concerns and talk with friends and family. Keep healthy relationships and maintain a sturdy support system.
- Take breaks–unwind and remind yourself that negative feelings will go away. Take deep breaths, meditate, do yoga, or work on a hobby.
- Stay informed– read or listen to regular updates from local, state, and federal officials. Always be on alert for rumors during a crisis, particularly on social media. Always check sources of information for reliability.
- Avoid taking in too much news – it can be upsetting to constantly hear about the different crises and see disturbing images repeatedly. Return to normal life as much as possible.
- Get help when needed– If distress impacts activities of your daily life for several days or weeks, talk to a pastor, counselor, therapist, or doctor.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA), also offers advice on how best to recognize mental stress and signs of depression during the health crisis in particular
- You may have anxiety, worry, or fear related to your own health, the experience of monitoring yourself, or being monitored by others for signs and symptoms of the disease
- Parents may feel guilty for taking time off work and the potential loss of income and job security, the challenges of securing things you need, such as groceries and personal care items, or concern about being able to effectively care for children
- Mental stresses can include uncertainty or frustration about how long you will need to stay in this situation, doubts about the future, loneliness from feeling cut off from the world and loved ones, or boredom and frustration because you may not be able to engage in normal day-to-day activities.
- If you have existing mental health conditions, it can lead to increased ambivalence about the situation, a desire to use alcohol or drugs, or symptoms of depression.
Once your teen has slipped into the zone, it is critical that they receive care and encouragement. Of course, the best course of all is to keep your teen out of the depression danger zone altogether.
Avoiding the Zone
The best way to keep everyone out of the zone is to protect ourselves from increased anxiety. If your anxiety, fear, and worry has been overwhelming, here are ten strategies you can try:
1. Media Distancing: to stop the spread of anxiety, distance yourselves from the media. All anxiety stems from uncertainty and an active imagination which produces catastrophic thoughts. The media, which is 24/7 crisis-focused and largely negative, is the driver of those thoughts. The more anxious you feel, the more you should distance from the media.
2. Be proactive rather than a worry wart: you could be worried about contracting a virus, your struggling business, or being unemployed. The more you worry about worst-case scenarios, the more anxious you will feel. Don’t dwell on negative thoughts – to take action to solve problems.
3. Focus on Present Odds, not stressful death models in order to maintain perspective. The vast majority of patients affected in this current crisis have mild to moderate cases and some have no symptoms. The mortality rate if you are healthy is extremely low. If you take care of yourself properly, even if you are in a higher risk category, your risk of death is still low.
4. Do Not Overreact to Physical Symptoms: allergies, bronchitis, post-nasal drip, and the cold are a more likely explanation for symptoms like a cough. Becoming a hypochondriac simply reinforces your worries and increases anxiety.
5. Be Productive and Find New Ways to Enjoy Life: We can’t control a national crisis, but we can control our response. Take this opportunity to try something new and do things you haven’t done for a while. Reorganize the house, do some painting or other maintenance, clean the garage, play a board game, learn a new skill, or begin a new hobby. Focus your attention on producing and achieving, not on health issues or being unemployed or on the fall semester of school.
6. Try to do Stress Reduction Activities Regularly: be grateful, exercise your body, and relax your mind to find some measure of peace. Meditation, mindful breathing, yoga, exercise, and a gratitude journal can all help lower stress. Pick a couple of these and practice every day.
7. Follow the CDC Guidelines: You don’t need to wash your hands until they are raw, strip off your clothes when you come home, or isolate yourself indoors completely. Just follow reasonable guidelines set by the CDC.
8. Maintain a Sense of Normalcy: As much as you can, keep your day as normal as possible within the CDC guidelines. Forget the gym – workout at home or walk or jog in your neighborhood. You can go to church online, have group chats with your friends, and maintain as close to a regular structure as you can.
9. Be Generous to Yourself and Others: “It’s normal to feel anxious and worried during a national crisis. Reaching out to relatives and friends who are isolated or in need will boost their spirits and yours. If you are in good financial standing, be grateful and continue to pay others for the services they cannot provide.”
10. If You Need it, Seek Out Professional Help: You are not alone. If you are experiencing increases in anxiety or increased symptoms of depression, talk to a mental health professional who can guide you through this trying time. Most therapists are using telehealth (online video appointments), so you can visit with a therapist no matter where you are or where they are. “Medication for anxiety, depression, and insomnia might also be needed and can be prescribed by a psychiatrist or your primary care physician.”
These suggestions are not just for adults or just for teens – they can be utilized by anyone. We are living in a world that is turned on its side and we sometimes aren’t seeing things clearly. Get together as a family to talk about these strategies, check in with each other’s emotional and mental states, and build stronger family ties in the process.
The depression danger zone is an area you don’t want your teen to enter. If you’re worried about your teen and noticing warning signs, you can always reach out to professionals here at Beachside! We’re available for phone consultations and have a dedicated staff that’s capable of meeting your teen’s needs! Make sure your teen knows there is no shame in needing help and you can set the example by getting help if you need it yourself. Reach out to the professionals for advice and consultations.