An Open Letter to Depressed Teenagers:
10 Things You Can Do

A neuroscientist mom offers a roadmap to reengage in post-pandemic life.

KEY POINTS

  • Depression and anxiety soared 25 percent worldwide in the year following the pandemic's start.
  • Feeling disconnected from yourself can leave you feeling disconnected from those around you.
  • Steps to combat depression and reconnect with yourself include focusing on gratitude, spending time outside, and joining activities.

An open letter to teenagers worldwide

It’s been two years since Covid-19 shut everything down. Your life has become small and circular. It is your own, but you might not like what things look like now. It feels gray as we tiptoe around, dipping just a toe into the waters, taking shallow breaths.

But my darling, it is time to re-emerge.

Depression and anxiety soared 25 percent worldwide in the year following the start of the pandemic. You are not alone. Teenagers are susceptible to depression caused primarily by  social isolation. There is nothing wrong with you. It just takes time to heal.

Following is a list of scientifically supported ways to combat depression. It gives you a compass, a map, a mash-up of ways to get a foothold back into a colorful, meaningful life. More importantly, if you do these 10 small things, you’ll begin to fill up your bucket again. You will find joy.

Print them out, put them up in your room, and try to do all of them in some way every week. I can’t promise how long it will take, but these steps work.

  1. Make a connection to another person. Humans are built for social connection, and when we’re feeling down, it’s harder to foster those connections. Friends are good, but it’s important to have at least one trusted adult in your life (King, 2012).
  2. Routinely spend time outside in nature. Nature accepts, heals, and helps us connect to ourselves in ways we don’t fully understand. It works. Long immersion is best, but taking short walks in nature, sitting by a stream, trail running—they all work to soften the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression (Bratman et al., 2015).
  3. Make sure you are exercising. Many studies support this as the first line of defense for depression, and it is under-utilized as a treatment in teens. The CDC recommends teens do at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day (You et al., 2021).
  4. Do something you love every day. Find a passion, a way to feel fulfilled, to feel emotions inside your chest, or something that brings a sense of flow, so you lose track of time. Do something that you used to enjoy again or explore something new. Producing something physically with our hands can be helpful to combat depression–think making bracelets, knitting, calligraphy, origami, or drawing anime (Lambert 2010).
  5. Do something kind for someone else. We feel good when we are useful and kind to others. We feel like our lives have more meaning, and it helps us feel connected (Son et al., 2020).
  6. Do chores or help around the house. It builds the family up, makes you feel part of something, and helps foster  gratitude (Rende 2021).
  7. Join a recurring activity outside the house. Due to the pandemic, we do far fewer external activities these days, and you’re accustomed to sitting things out. If you socially don’t want to interact in a group, start with an individual activity, but make it weekly and not at home. (Gilman et al., 2004).
  8. Limit your screen time. So many studies support this. Online experiences are not as valuable developmentally as in-person activities, even if those sessions are live. For media consumption, recognize that some media has value, but the main risk here is living a life of a bystander who is being influenced instead of becoming a person who decides what to do for themself. Try to keep a balance where screen time is less than real life time during waking hours. If you’re worried about an app, use it less (Liu et al., 2016).
  9. Focus on gratitude. This is a backdoor tactic to combat depression. The antidote to many of life’s troubles is simply an attitude of gratitude. Write down something you appreciate or talk about something you feel grateful for every day (Bono et al., 2018).
  10. Do mindfulness and self-compassion exercises. Mindfulness is just being present with yourself and perhaps reflecting on how things are going. At its most simple, it can just be a daily check-in, like keeping a dream diary, a daily art journal, or a mood tracker app on the phone. Meditation and simply concentrating on the breath going in and out can be extremely powerful (Bluth et al., 2016).

Other science-based strategies can be added to this list, including talking to a licensed counselor or your pediatrician. A new perspective is often eye-opening, and professionals have additional tools.

Remember that when we are disconnected from those around us, the root cause is often feeling disconnected from ourselves. If you use this list to reconnect to yourself, then reconnection with family and the outside world will come next. You know yourself best. These things will help you remember that.

If you or someone you love is contemplating  suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.



Source: Erin Clabough Ph.D. March 10 2022;
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/neuroparent/202203/open-letter-depressed-teenagers-10-things-you-can-do

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