What parents need to know about depression and emotional resilience in teens

What parents need to know about depression and emotional resilience in teens

I'm very happy to welcome guest poster Cheryl Frommelt, a therapist with more than two decades of experience working with adolescents and their families.. She previously shared her thoughts on the biggest challenges facing adolescents and is back today to share what  parents need to know about depression in teens, and how parents can help their kids build emotional resilience.

A survey released by the World Health Organization in May 2014 found depression to be the number one cause of illness and disability in adolescents worldwide. The World Mental Health Survey, which was supported by WHO, found that half of those who suffered from mental health problems, including depression, first experience symptoms at age 14. In high-income countries, like the United States, fewer than half of adolescents with a mental health problem receive treatment.

We see depression amongst adolescents at an all time high, in large part because of the 3 factors discussed in this prior post.

In America today, high school and college students are five to eight times as likely to suffer from depressive symptoms as were teenagers 50 or 60 years ago, according to Psychology Today.

Part of the statistical rise in adolescent depression is that we are recognizing it more due to increased societal and parental awareness of the signs and symptoms of depression.

The uniqueness of the adolescent brain means it does not operate exactly like an adults, and that leads to impulsivity, moodiness and exaggerated emotional responses. I have had many conversations with parents throughout the years about what is typical adolescent behavior and what is not.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between ups and downs that are just part of being a teenager and teen depression. Talk with your teen. Try to determine whether he or she seems capable of managing challenging feelings, or if life seems overwhelming.

Teen depression signs and symptoms include a change from the teenager's previous attitude and behavior that can cause significant distress and problems at school or home, in social activities, or other areas of life.

Depressive symptoms also last longer than typical examples of teenage angst, according to an NIMH report about identifying and treating adolescent depression. Rather than coming and going, the negative emotions and change in behavior continue for weeks or months at a time.

It is also important to consult with your child's doctor and not self-diagnose because symptoms could also be a sign of an underlying physical medical condition, rather than depression. A broad depression checklist, including severity and duration of symptoms can be viewed here.

We all know that life has it little daily challenges as well as many big, unforeseen, challenges.  The antidote is emotional resilience.

Emotional resilience simply refers to one’s ability to adapt to stressful situations or crises.

More resilient people are able to “roll with the punches” and adapt to adversity without lasting difficulties. We all know someone who seems much better at handling stress or a difficult situation that someone else does. To some degree, emotional and physical resilience are something we are born with. Some of us have always been the “sensitive kind” while others are not bothered by anything.

Both biological and social factors contribute to personality development, so there is something about being “naturally resilient” that is out of our control. However, psychological and social research have demonstrated that emotional resilience is something that can be learned or improved upon no matter what level of it we are born with. In other words, resilience can be a learned commodity!

Dr. Michael Bradley, Psychologist and author of "Yes, Your Teen is Crazy" discusses the 7 "Cs" of resilience parenting from "Building Resilience in Children and Teens" from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As parents, we can aid our children in gaining these seven crucial traits which resilience is comprised of.

  1. Competence

    Kids need specific abilities and skills to handle situations effectively.  These skills help kids to trust their judgments, make responsible choices, tolerate frustration, and see failure as the prerequisite to success.

  2. Confidence

    This is more about an attitude than a skill.  This is about believing and expecting the best, not in an achievement sense but in qualities such as integrity, persistence, kindness, etc.

  3. Connections

    These are the invisible lifelines that build resistance more than other other factor!  These are the positive connections and interactions kids have with all the significant role models in their life.  These connections build the teens intrinsic sense that they are valuable and worthwhile, no matter what.

  4. Character

    What you do when no one is looking?  It is a code: a fundamental sense of right and wrong; character breeds strong sense of self-worth and confidence.

  5. Contribution

    Making positive efforts no matter how small.  A sense of generosity with money, talents and time.  If this is modeled by parents and they also create opportunities for their child to contribute themselves this value is further reinforced.

  6. Coping Skills

    Using skills to handle stress rather than ducking it.  This comes from kids being taught the value of dealing with discomfort rather than being buffered from it.  Once your child has successfully navigated difficult decisions their perception of resiliency and strength increases.

  7. Control

    Their belief in the ability to impact their own world.  They have an understanding that most things happen as a direct result of someone's choices or actions.

Through understanding the unique challenges teens face today and recognizing that those stressors can put our teens at risk, parents are in a far better place to proactively build up their children's emotional resilience.  This awareness also equips parents with the ability to recognize when their child is truly struggling and get themselves and their child the support and professional help they need.


As a Therapist and the Clinical Director at Fox Valley Institute for Growth and Wellness in Naperville, Illinois, Cheryl is passionate about helping people achieve balanced and healthy lives.  With 25 years of experience, Cheryl specializes in relational, marital, and blended family issues. She has extensive experience with mood disorders, anxiety, trauma, stress and anger management, grief, and loss.

Prior Post: The 3 big challenges facing teens and tweens, from a therapist's perspective

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