There are Multiple Causes of
Teenage Depression and Risk of Suicide.
In last weeks article we discussed the increasing prevalence of teen mental health issues and rising suicide rates, even pre-pandemic, and some of the causes of teen depression. If you missed it go here.
Here are Some Steps You Can Take To Reduce Depression Among Our Youth.
If you are a parent who wants to safeguard your children's mental health or have a teen that you are particularly concerned about, here are some strong, effective tools for your use. This information is not intended to replace professional help, when needed.
This article will focus on options:
That a parent or teen can readily implement.
That is backed up by published research.
That will make a real difference.
Teen suicide is a serious issue and we all need to do what we can to improve teen mental health.
GOD, CHURCH AND RELIGION
RELIGION: No discussion of mental health would be complete without looking at the role of God, church and religion. A recent report stated that religious participation is associated with improved mental health, including less depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies, as well as higher life satisfaction, less substance abuse and better cognitive functioning (Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jan; 17(2): 494). This finding is important because less depression and suicidal tendencies is exactly what we want for our teens.
According to the most recent Gallup poll, 81% of Americans believe in God and 47% of U.S. adults belong to a church, synagogue or mosque. Ten years ago, 37% of Americans attended church weekly, or near weekly, but that number has now dropped to 22%. These are the lowest numbers ever reported for belief in God and Church attendance, occurring at the same time that teen mental health is deteriorating and suicides are increasing, and obviously there may be a connection. Without proselytizing anybody to embrace a faith they don't have, it would seem there are many families that could resume attending the church they already belong to and perhaps they, and their teens mental health, might benefit. And those that believe in God but don't have a Church, might consider finding one.
PRAYER is also important to mental health. The American Journal of Epidemiology published a study in 2018 involving more than 6,000 adolescents that were followed for at least 8 years. This study showed that adolescents who prayed daily had fewer depressive symptoms, higher levels of life satisfaction, and improved self-esteem. In the studies both individual prayer and family prayer have been studied and both are beneficial.
GIVING THANKS: Prayer, as taught by most religions, involves giving thanks, which may account for some of the benefit of prayer. Giving thanks, or expressing gratitude tends to reduce depression and improve mental health according to The Harvard Health Newsletter and the Mayo Clinic Newsletter both of which recommend expressing gratitude daily to reduce depression. The National Alliance of Mental Illness states "Many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed." Some families have a custom of gathering together at the end of the day when family members take turns stating something good about the day, or something they are grateful for, (sometimes followed by family prayer). Some people keep a journal to record the things they are grateful for at the end of each day. People will benefit from counting blessings and expressing gratitude whether it is a part of prayer or done by itself.
The important thing is that you and your children can receive the benefit of prayer AND the benefit of giving thanks, or the benefit of either one alone. People benefit from prayer AND expressing sincere thanks daily for the good things in life. Personal and family prayer traditionally has been one way people practiced gratitude in the past, but expressing gratitude can be done even by those that don't pray.
CHURCH MEMBERSHIP also allows for our teens to have positive relationships with other adults outside of their own family, especially if the church has a youth program. In 2010, The American Psychological Association published a paper looking at how these relationships with adults outside of the family affected youth. They found that young people that had positive nonfamily relationships with adults were more successful in their education and employment, and most importantly, had less depression, better emotional health and less misconduct. These relationships can occur outside of a church setting and still be beneficial. Many teens go through a period of time when their relationship with their parents gets strained. It is part of growing up and separating from their parents and gaining independence. If kids are peer dependent, and they don't have strong relationships with other adults, when the going gets tough they will turn to their peers for guidance. We know how that turns out. When the blind lead the blind, they both shall fall into the ditch (Matthew 15:14).
EXTENDED FAMILY can also provide strength to our youth. Kids that have a relationship with their grandparents do better than those without such a relationship. Go here to read an article I wrote last year about the value of grandparents. A study published in 2009 in The Journal of Family Psychology reported that adolescents with a strong relationship with their grandparents had less depression, fewer negative mental health symptoms and fewer emotional problems. And for kids with one or more depressed parents, they even found less transmission of that depression from parents to kids, if the kids had a strong relationship with the grandparents. And not surprisingly, grandparents are similarly less depressed if they have a relationship with their grandkids. The same thing probably applies to relationships with aunts and uncles although I am not aware of any studies involving aunts and uncles.
REGULAR FAMILY MEALS are beneficial for teens. A study in 2013 found that regular family meals were associated with a reduction in depressive symptoms and suicide in adolescents, (J Youth Adolesc. 2013; 42(7): 943–63. pmid:23712661). A 2015 study showed a reduction in eating disorders, risky behavior, depression and suicidal ideation. (Can Fam Physician. 2015; 61: e96–106. pmid:25676655)
The usual pattern is that teens participate less frequently in family meals as the teen gets older. Most of the studies found 5 meals per week as being the level needed to make a difference, counting both breakfast and dinner. I knew a family that really wanted the benefits of family meals, whose various work and school schedules just did not allow for it. They scheduled a family dessert every night between 9 and 10PM. They all made it home, hung out together for awhile, enjoyed a dessert and talked about their day.
DOING GOOD/SERVING OTHERS: We're all familiar with the saying “It's better to give than receive”. What might surprise you is that this is actually backed up by research. A study published in 2016 in Psychosomatic Medicine used neuroimaging of the brain to show that giving had greater benefits than receiving. Participants in the study who gave help to others showed reduced stress and increased feelings of reward in their brain imaging, more so than when they received help. This research supports the conclusion that when you help others, you’re also helping yourself. A meta-analysis of 4,045 people published in 2018 by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, showed that people who did random acts of kindness, or supported or helped others, experienced an improvement in mood and well-being.
Generally, kids don't get involved in serving others unless influenced by the family. One of the best things we did when we were raising our kids, was encouraging each one to sponsor a child through the Save The Children charity. This is a highly respected international charity. For a small monthly donation, you, or your child, can sponsor a poverty stricken child from your choice of countries all over the world. You will receive a letter and pictures from the child you sponsor and answers to any letters or emails you send. Children can be encouraged to earn their own money to sponsor a child. If their earning capacity is small, 2 children could partner together to sponsor 1 child.
There are lots of other options for a family to involve their teens in helping others regularly. Some families go together to work at a food back once a month. Some families pick up litter regularly in the neighborhood or local park. Others adopt a missionary, member of the military, or a prisoner, to write to regularly and send care packages to. Teens don't usually get involved in these things on their own, but will often get involved when the whole family is doing it.
NUTRITION & EXERCISE
GOOD NUTRITION: A healthy diet is important because it contributes to better mental health. An interesting study in 2017 (Sci Rep. 2017; 7: 6287) wanted to find out if sugar consumption caused depression or if depression caused people to consume more sugar. They found that consuming higher amounts of sugar led to depression, but depression did NOT cause increased sugar consumption. Because family meals generally end up having less sugar than the food your teens select when eating on their own, your teen gets a double benefit when you eat together as a family. Go here to learn more about the danger of added sugar in your diet.
OMEGA 3 fatty acids are essential for mental (and physical) health. A recent study, published in June of 2021 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry tested EPA and DHA in the treatment of Major Depression. EPA and DHA are the 2 most important omega 3 fatty acids. The patients that took EPA experienced an average 64% reduction in depression symptoms, and those that took DHA had a 71% reduction in depression symptoms. Family meals are likely to have more omega 3s than the food teens find on their own, especially if an effort is made to avoid soy oil and corn oil. Of course, teens can, and should, supplement omega 3s, to get the results described above. Go here and here for information on supplementing omega 3s.
REGULAR EXERCISE helps treat depression. A very recent study in JAMA Pediatrics, published January 5, 2023, found a significant reduction in depression when adolescents exercised. The average age was 14, and the exercise included dancing, swimming, sports, running, treadmills, ellipticals, exergames, and other forms of aerobic activity. They found that 3 or more times a week was necessary to see improvement. The authors concluded that: "The evidence that physical activity is effective medicine for mental health is robust; now we need to find ways to get people to take it." Other studies have shown exercise to be more effective than prescription antidepressants. Go here for more information about exercise.
SPARKS: INDIVIDUAL INTEREST AND PASSION
SPARKS are the passions and interests that are unique to each individual. Sparks refers to the interests that kids discover and really enjoy. Sparks are things kids willingly invest time in and care about. There are hundreds of different possible Sparks, but they all have certain things in common. Sparks will cause your teen to “light up” and show joy, energy and interest. A Spark is something your teen will willingly give up screen time to participate in.
Kids that know what their Spark is and have adult support to develop their Spark are less likely to experience depression and less likely to act out. Your child may find their Spark in music, theater, sports, cheerleading, outdoor adventures, gardening, animal husbandry, cooking, automobile repair or restoration, robotics, woodwork, art, hunting, fishing, aviation, charity work or volunteering. You may be surprised where your teens find their Spark.
People can have more than one Spark at the same time! A Spark is more than just a passing interest or talent. Sparks bring people energy and joy. Sparks might start as a hobby and may never get past the hobby stage. Or Sparks can grow into a life purpose, and allow a person to make a contribution to the world.
You can help your kids find their Sparks by pointing out the things you see that make them perk up their ears and show interest. You can talk to your youth about what gets them excited. Ask questions like, “What do you love to do? Why do you like it? How do you feel when you are doing it? What is something you do that you are proud of?”
An important part of Sparks is that kids have adult support to develop their interest. Help your youth find chances to practice their Spark(s). Are there classes they can attend, library books to check out, or people to mentor them? Where could your teen volunteer to gain Spark experience? Go to the public library with your teen or “google” his or her Spark on the internet. Reflect on resources you have to help your teen. Do you know people who share the same Spark as your youth? Introduce your teen to them! Attend your teen’s games, shows, and public demonstrations of his or her Spark(s). Make it clear that you are there to support your youth whether or not they do well. You can find more information about Sparks online, and you can go to Amazon and get the book by Peter L. Benson: Sparks: How Parents Can Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers
What Will You Do To Protect
Your Teen's Mental Health?
The options discussed in this article are NOT the ONLY path to happiness, but I believe these are some of the best tools that will help the most families. If there are things that will be more effective for your family and your children, you should do whatever is most beneficial.
Teen Mental Health Check List
Use the handy check list below to measure how you are doing. One point for each yes answer. Ten is a perfect score. Even a family that doesn't want religion in their life, could still score 9.
Is your teen getting the benefit of regular Church attendance and prayer?
Does your teen use gratitude daily by counting their blessings & giving thanks?
Does your teen have significant relationships with nonfamily adults?
Does your teen have a relationship with grandparents, aunts and uncles?
Does your teen participate in at least five family meals per week?
Does your teen regularly serve or help others?
Is your teen limiting foods with added sugar?
Does your teen supplement omega 3s?
Does your teen engage in aerobic activity 3 or more times a week?
Has your child found, and are they developing, their Spark?
Are There Things on This List That Would
Benefit Your Children?
Take care and BE HEALTHY!
© 2023· Content is Property Created by CW Jasper