Rising teenage depression and anxiety ignites global mental health concerns

Parents of depressed teens can help by listening to what their children are saying and letting them know that you are there for them. Picture: Kindel Media/Pexels

Parents of depressed teens can help by listening to what their children are saying and letting them know that you are there for them. Picture: Kindel Media/Pexels

Published Jul 13, 2023


Depression, silently plaguing adolescents worldwide, has emerged as the leading cause of illness and disability in this vulnerable age group. The majority of cases remain undetected and untreated, heightening the risk of suicide.

As the world grapples with the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic, the already declining mental health of teenagers has been further exacerbated by the prevailing conditions, painting a grim picture of sadness and hopelessness.

According to a study conducted by mental health activist Abdurahman Kenny, who serves as the mental health portfolio manager for Pharma Dynamics, older children have borne the brunt of this crisis.

The challenges posed by puberty, hormonal changes, and limited social interaction have intensified their struggles. Disturbingly, girls appear to be more susceptible to depression and anxiety, which is consistent with findings from pre-pandemic research.

Kenny sheds light on the prevalence of depression and anxiety among young people today. In South Africa, where access to mental health resources is often limited, parents must be vigilant in recognising behavioural changes in their children.

By doing so, they can provide the necessary support required to navigate the complex and challenging world of teenage mental health.

As depression tightens its grip on the younger generation, society as a whole must acknowledge this escalating crisis.

By cultivating a deeper understanding, promoting dialogue, and investing in mental health resources, we can collectively work towards safeguarding our adolescents and nurturing a brighter, more resilient future.

Here’s what you can do as a parent:

Be present

Show empathy and understanding – even if they don’t want to talk to you or do much of anything. Depression makes even doing the smallest of tasks difficult. Validate their emotions, but not their unhealthy behaviour.

Ask questions about their mood in a non-threatening way. Don’t be judgmental or try to solve their problems, just listen to what they are saying and let them know that you are there for them, while showing compassion for what they’re going through.

Focus on the positive

Compliment them on the positive things they do – even if it’s just going to school, setting the dinner table or helping with the dishes. Try not to belabour their negative points, but rather acknowledge that they’re trying. They don’t want to feel this way.

If they could snap out of it, they would, but depression doesn’t work that way. Showing love and appreciation for the little things they do well will strengthen your relationship.

Encourage self-care

While it may be difficult for your teen to look after themselves while they’re feeling depressed, it’s important.

Getting regular exercise, eating healthy meals, sleeping enough, participating in sports and wholesome hobbies that make them feel good about themselves, limiting screen time and social media use, practising gratitude by keeping a journal, encouraging social interaction, and setting achievable goals are all things they can do that will improve their mood and self-esteem.

Set boundaries

Healthy boundaries are essential for adolescents to form positive relationships with others. Setting these limits creates physical and emotional safety for your teen, so they know what is acceptable and what is not. Even when they are depressed, rules should be respected.

Get them the help they need

Discuss going to a therapist if their mood doesn’t improve. If they don’t want to go, ask in what way you can help. If they tell you to back off, don’t retaliate with anger. It might just be their way of telling you they need space.

Accept their response and give them some more time to think about it. If they don’t come back to you, ask your GP to recommend a few therapists. Then give the list of suggested therapists to your teen and ask them to make a choice.

It’s important to make them feel involved in the process, which sets the stage for effective therapy.

“This includes interpersonal therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behavioural therapy, which all play a role in the recovery process. However, a thorough assessment should be done by a psychiatrist to recommend the most appropriate treatment for your child,” said Kenny.

“Teenagers with depression may also benefit from medication, such as antidepressants, but the best results are usually obtained when combining medicine with psychotherapy (talking to a therapist).

“That said, your teen has to be committed to therapy, therefore finding the right therapist that your child can connect with is key.”