Follow the below steps to help your depressed son.
- Connect with Him
- Protect his Sleep
- Limit Screen Time
- Give him a Job
- Get him active
If you think your teenage son might be depressed the first step is to take him to your family doctor. A physician can do a proper assessment and if necessary make a referral to the appropriate service in your community. If he won’t go to the doctor you can also ask him to take this self-check for depression.
If your son is unwilling to seek help, or there are no mental health services that are accessible or affordable to you there are still things that you can do right now to help your depressed son.
Connect with Him
In his book The Power of Showing Up Dr. Daniel Siegel argues that the most important thing parents can do for their kids is simply show up. He points to evidence that one of the best predictors for the mental health of any young person is the consistent supportive presence of at least one adult in their lives.
This not only has a huge impact on their mental health but also their success in school and in life. Unfortunately, one of the symptoms of depression is that your son may isolate and withdraw from social contact making it very challenging to connect with him.
Depressed boys will frequently avoid in-person social interaction. They also typically spend excessive time online, or engage in risky behavior to avoid or numb their emotional pain. This behavior can drive a wedge between them and the adults who care about them making meaningful connection seem impossible.
If you feel discouraged at your attempts to connect with your son don’t give up, he needs you! His actions might be saying “Leave me alone!” but in his heart, he is saying “I’m all alone”. Here are a couple of tips on how to connect with your son.
Take an interest in what interests him.
Find out what your son likes and take time to learn about it. Watch youtube videos, read books and online articles about it, and tell him what you’ve learned to provoke discussion. It may not be your cup of tea, but if you can show him you took the time to learn about what he likes, it will help him realize how much you care.
Be present with undivided attention.
Every day, for at least 10 minutes put your phone away, and give 100% of your focused attention to your son. You don’t have to have a full-blown conversation, it could just be sitting with him while he’s doing something, or doing an activity together.
Don’t pressure him to talk, just show him that you value being with him, and it will help lessen his feelings of isolation and depression.
If you’d like more on this topic read my article How to Connect With Your Depressed Son.
Protect Healthy Sleep
New research is demonstrating how crucial sleep is for our mental and physical health. One study of children and adolescents with depression found that those who suffered from insomnia (inability to sleep) and hypersomnia (sleeping too much) were far more likely to have severe and long-lasting depression.
Even more concerning is how sleep loss can increase suicide risk as it makes people’s emotions more negative and impairs their judgment. Here are two tips to help your son have deeper and more restorative sleep.
Cut off screen time one hour before his bedtime
Screens emit blue light which mimics sunlight. If your son is on his phone or watching TV late at night it will cause his brain to think that it’s daytime and prevent the release of melatonin, the body’s natural sleep inducer. Have him charge his devices outside his room and use an alarm clock instead of his phone to wake up.
Keep sleep and wake times consistent
Teenagers need about 8-10 hours of sleep but typically don’t feel tired until later in the evening. Ensure that there is an 8-10 hour window from his bedtime and waking time. Once his sleep window is decided, stick to it, and get him out of bed in the morning, don’t let him lie in bed all day.
Click here for some more tips on How to Protect Your Sons Sleep.
Limit Screen time
Excessive screen time negatively impacts your son’s health in a number of ways. As previously mentioned gaming or watching videos all night will interrupt his sleep pattern, but too much screen time alone can also negatively impact his brain.
If you’re wondering where to draw the line read my article How Much Screen Time is Too Much. Suffice to say, that if your gut is telling you he’s on screens too much, he probably is.
In her book Reset your Child’s Brain psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley summarizes how screens negatively impact developing brains. She has helped reduce her young clients’ mental health symptoms by 50% just by getting them to take a break from screens for four weeks.
Excessive screen time also gets in the way of connecting with parents and friends in person and staying active which are both essential for mental health. Here are two ways that you can limit your son’s screen time.
Have screen free time during dinner
Dinner time is an opportunity to connect and share about what happened during the day’s events, but screens can hijack this vital daily ritual. To avoid this, get everyone to put their phones in a basket and put it on a shelf during dinner to give your son a much-needed break from screens.
Require homework to be done before using screens
By requiring homework to be done before using screens you can kill two birds with one stone. Get your son to do his homework, and give him a break from screens. Setting him up to be successful in school is a great way to help your depressed son.
You may be thinking “That sounds nice, but how do you actually get kids to give up their beloved devices in today’s digital world?”. To find out how read my article on How to Limit Your Sons Screen Time.
Give him a Job
In my work with young men, I often hear them say they feel useless. This feeling contributes to their feelings of depression and hopelessness. In his book Saving Our Sons therapist, Michael Gurian argues that boys need to feel needed and useful to those who are important to them.
Unfortunately, common symptoms of depression low energy and motivation. This may cause your son to do less than before causing others to expect less of him. Many parents I work with bemoan trying to get their depressed son to do anything at all. However, this is no reason to completely throw out your expectations of your son.
In my experience when others no longer expect anything of them it only reinforces young men’s feelings of shame and failure. Here are two things you can do to give your son a sense that he is useful and needed.
Give him a job that he must do every day
It could be as simple as making his bed in the morning. Try and find something your son can do every day that’s within his capacity given his mental health challenges. Make sure that if he doesn’t do it there are consequences. Otherwise he will just put it off just like any teenager depressed or no.
Invite him to contribute using his strengths
Teen boys love feeling like the expert or that they can do something others can’t. If you have a problem that your son is good at, ask for his help. If he blows you off don’t take it personally though. Instead, say something like “Hey son, I’m trying to figure out this problem with my computer but I’m out of answers, you’re good with computer stuff, mind giving me a hand?”.
Get him active
We all know that exercise is important for physical health. We are only now beginning to see how our sedentary lifestyle is negatively impacting our mental health as well. Exercise is so important for mental health that multiple studies have shown that exercise alone can reduce symptoms of depression.
The challenge is that it’s hard to get the average person to exercise, let alone a depressed teen. The good news is that any physical activity at all will help improve his mental health. Here are some ways to get him active.
Find activities he likes to do
Think of what he likes to do that’s active and help him do it. It doesn’t have to be big. Buy a badminton racket and play in the backyard. Go for a 10-minute bike ride to the corner store. Whatever ways that he enjoys moving around encourage him to do it, and join him for the added chance to connect.
Do a home workout
Most teen boys want to be strong and fit, but they’re often overweight or physically weak due to inactivity. They may also be scared to go to a gym where everyone seems like they know what they’re doing. To solve this problem find ways to workout at home.
Get a chin-up bar, watch a Youtube video of how to do a home workout, or do a push-up challenge with him. Anything to get him moving and feeling competent in his physical abilities.
What have you found has worked in helping your depressed son? If you have any questions or helpful advice feel free to leave a comment below.