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Real Talk: Start the conversation about depression

A mom's perspective

Adolescence, according to BBC News, now lasts from ages 10-24, thus starting earlier and ending later than ever before. Currently, my oldest daughter is firmly entrenched in beginning adolescence at the age of 12. So being that my girls are 8 years apart when my oldest finally enters adulthood in about a decade, that will be right about when my youngest daughter… will be just starting her own dozen-year adolescent journey experience.

Pray for me.

As adults, yes, we’ve all survived the developmental stage of adolescence. However, I consider my Generation X cohort pretty lucky to have grown up when we did. This is because, in 2018, adolescence is much, much different than it was back in 1989 when I turned 12. Of course, that doesn’t mean everything adolescent-related nowadays is worse than it was in the past. In some ways, today’s pre-teens and teens have it much better than my generation did. Adults are more involved in children’s lives nowadays, the teen pregnancy rate is at an all-time low, and teens are drinking less, to name a few positive differences in favor of today.

But through several other lenses, comparisons point to modern adolescent life as being harder than ever before, particularly on the pubescent child’s mental health.

Generation ‘Stressed’

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 2 million American teens report experiencing depression severe enough to impair their daily functioning on a regular basis. Researchers believe that the rates of depression and anxiety among US teens could be up to 8 times higher than they were for the same aged cohort 50 years ago during the Vietnam draft era. This rate increase can be attributed to a multitude of reasons, including the rise of social media and cell phone use, an overall lack of real human connection in many adolescent-aged kids’ lives, the academic demands of schooling, uncertainties regarding the future of the planet, and more.

So, as a parent of a pre-teen, I ask; how can I best help my child navigate these turbulent adolescent waters, especially when I can barely swim in them myself? How do I talk to my adolescent daughter if I feel she may be depressed?

According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 30 percent of teens report feeling sad or depressed because of stress. On average, teens reported their stress level to be 5.8 on a 10-point scale, compared with a 5.1 stress level for adults.

Did I just say that today’s adolescents are, on average, MORE stressed out than today’s adults?

Yes. That’s exactly what I said.

Signs of Teen Depression
Adolescents are, by nature, irritable and moody. This can be a shock to a first-time mom of a pre-teen (me), especially when the child they once knew was consistently cheerful, easygoing, and pleasant! So how does a parent discern “irritable and moody behaviors” from “possible depression symptoms?”

According to WebMD, red flags signifying teen depression can include:

¨ General unhappiness lasting longer than two weeks

¨ Lack of motivation

¨ Withdrawal behaviors

¨ Excessive sleeping

¨ Changes in eating habits

¨ Engaging in criminal/rebellious behaviors

¨ Difficulty concentrating

¨ Complaints of pains such as a headache, stomachache, or lower back pain

¨ Preoccupation with death or dying

¨ Persistent sadness, anxiety, and/or hopelessness

¨ A sudden drop in grades

¨ Withdrawal from friends


What Parents Can Do

I’m quite sure that over the next dozen-plus years my concern for the mental health of both my daughters likely will consistently hover around level “through-the-roof” for most of my waking hours. Though luckily, besides the fun that constant worrying brings, there are several other ways I can help my children’s overall mental health.

1. Be strong for them. Be the calm your children can retreat to during any possible life storm. Ensure your children know and understand that you will always be a beacon of trust, a safe space, and an understanding, non-judgmental sounding board for them, without question.

2. Always attempt to teach through words AND actions. Throw out the outdated “Do as I say, not as I do.” Prioritize family. Put down your device as they put down theirs. Communicate. Spend time together. Enjoy being around one another. Have fun together.

3. Never stop watching. From a safe distance, without smothering or hovering, always be an interested observer in your child’s life. Talk to your children every day. Ask them questions about themselves and show interest in who they are becoming.

4. Take notes. Jotting down any observed mental health behavioral red flags you may see can hasten your awareness of possible depression symptoms in your child. The faster you notice, the earlier the issue can be addressed with a mental health professional if necessary. Your notes can also be helpful to any mental health professional you see as well.

5. Be proactive. You are the parent. Go with your gut. If in the end your child is not depressed, take solace in that fact and be relieved. Because if you end up to be right and your child is depressed, by taking charge, being proactive, and intervening via mental health professional sooner than later- you might end up saving their lives.

Jill Valentino is a wife, mom of two, elementary educator and lifelong resident of the Hudson Valley. In the wee hours of the evening she moonlights as an essayist, wannabe novelist, and classic rock mommy review blogger. To read more, visit her website at

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