10 Ways to Help Your Depressed Child
Feeling sad is an emotion we all experience throughout life. It is as valid and equal emotion as happiness. Depression is different to the feeling of sadness, but your child might struggle to explain how they feel using other words. In teens, depression is sometimes harder to spot, because certain symptoms of depression, such as not sleeping or withdrawing, are typical teenage characteristics. If you sense your child no longer enjoys things they previously enjoyed, seems withdrawn, struggles to focus or appears unusually tired, consider whether depression is the cause. The NHS website lists further symptoms. Whilst not always a cure, there are many ways to help your child with depressive feelings. If your child has a depression diagnosis or you fear they may feel depressed, try some of the following things to help them feel better.
Find Authentic Connections
I recently read, “I used to think I was introverted because I really liked being alone, but it turns out that I just like being at peace, and I am very extroverted around people who bring me peace.” Children have little opportunity to seek friendships with connection at the core. Generally schools and clubs bundle children together in groups based on age. Introverts need time alone to regulate their nervous system, but humans are social creatures, and we all need connection with others. If your child chooses not to socialise because they are yet to find genuine connections, help them meet people in different spaces. By trying new activities that cover many subjects, your child will meet people with varying interests and have the opportunity to make friends based on connection and passion, rather than age. If your child experiences social anxiety, try online clubs as a start.
Exercise is shown to help alleviate the symptoms of depression. There are many free exercise classes for children on YouTube that you can do together. If your child is particularly energetic, you might enjoy a short jog, bike ride or scoot. Many gyms will allow children over 10 years to use some exercise machines with adult supervision. As a super fun activity, head to your local trampoline park and bounce together.
Nourishment is paramount for depression recovery. It is always difficult to imagine how the food you eat affects your brain, but it does. Your gut, the gastrointestinal tract, which starts at your mouth and ends at your anus, contains 500 million neurons that connect to your brain through your nervous system. Neurons group together to form nerves. The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of these nerves. It runs from your brain through your face and chest into your abdomen. This nerve is the main component of your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your body’s ability to relax. Your vagus nerve is sensitive to what enters your gut. Foods that nourish your body and provide it with the nutrients it needs help all parts of your body; brain and mind included, to function optimally. When you restrict your body of nutrients by eating what I call ‘hole fillers’ you prevent your body from getting what it needs to work well. Feed your child nutrient rich foods to help their gut and their brain. You might need to make a slow transition, as certain foods, such as processed foods with a high sugar content, change our ability to taste, and will make eating natural, high nutrient foods less tolerable for your child.
Aim for good sleep
Your child needs sleep to re-energise and repair their body. Many of us suffer from sleep disruptions these days due to our heavy use of artificial lighting. The blue light from the sun tells you it is daytime, stimulating your body to release cortisol, the hormone that wakes you up. Interestingly, cortisol is also the stress hormone that our bodies release when we enter the fight or flight response… aka the anxious state. Unfortunately, artificial lighting from street lights, home lights, TVs and other devices also emit a lot of blue light. Your brain cannot differentiate between this blue light and the blue light from the sun. Artificial light, in whatever form, in the couple of hours before bedtime, prevents the body from recognising the sunset and releasing the sleep hormone melatonin. Help your child learn healthy sleep habits, with a specified bedtime and limited blue light in the couple of hours before.
Emotionally Support your Child
As a parent, I appreciate the feeling of wanting to make it better. It is so incredibly difficult to see your child unhappy. However, trying to fix it only deals with your discomfort. As challenging as it may be, try your best to let your child share with you how they feel, without giving advice or attempting to change anything. Hear their words as they speak, or sit with them in silence if that is what they need.
Give the Gift of Time
If you’re anything like me, you rush from one thing to the next with no time to breathe in between. The activities all fit perfectly into diary slots, but everyday tasks like cooking, tiding, shopping, etc all get left out. Whenever there is the tiniest gap, it is quickly filled by an everyday, not diary worthy task. Eventually, you come to the end of the week and realise that whilst you’ve been there every day, you haven’t actually “been there”. Add entries to the diary for time with your child without distraction. This does not need to have a big, fun, super parent activity attached, and can be as simple as time spent reading or planting seeds. The important thing is your child has your undivided attention.
Offer your Child Professional Help
Some children prefer to talk to people without a connection to their family. As previously mentioned, parents want it to be OK. When it isn’t OK, this can leave a child feeling guilty and a parent feeling sad. Offer your child the opportunity to speak with a professional that will give them space to talk in a safe environment without emotional involvement. Talking therapies are not for everyone. Perhaps your depressed child would benefit from art or drama therapy. Your doctor can guide you on what the NHS offers. Unfortunately there is a long waiting list in most areas. If you cannot pay for private help, explore local charities that can offer discounted or free of charge support.
Check Vitamin D levels
Low vitamin D links to depression, the UK government recommends we all take a vitamin D supplement. The Government recommendation is 10 micrograms per day, however, I believe most nutritional therapists recommend more. If you can, speak with a nutritional therapist to get guidance on how much vitamin D and the brand they recommend for your depressed child.
Your child is as natural as the trees in the forest. Unfortunately, 21st century life prevents many of us from spending time in the rest of the natural world. We enclose ourselves in man-made spaces that isolate us from the environment our bodies’ thrive in. Take your depressed child for walks in the forest or local green spaces. Help them reconnect with nature by exploring barefoot and feeling the ground beneath their feet. Experience the different textures by touching the leaves and bark of trees. Feel the weather by singing in the rain, splashing in the puddles, and sweating in the heat. Your child’s body functions best in its natural environment.
Learn self hypnosis / how to meditate together
As a hypnotherapist, this is my bias. Self hypnosis or meditation bring enormous benefits to the mind and body. You can have a session with a hypnotherapist to learn how to use self hypnosis. A hypnotherapist with mindfulness experience will also give your depressed child many tools to use at home to enhance your meditation practice. The recommendation is two ten minute meditations each day. If this feels huge, start with one ten minute meditation each day. You can do this at any time of the day. In the morning, it will set you up for the day ahead, and in the evening calm your body for a good night’s sleep.