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When parents hold their new baby in their arms, they often dream about the type of person this chubby little human will become. Parents envision their children’s future careers, friends, and even their future spouse and kids. Many parents simply hope and pray that their children will grow up to know and love God and to most of all, be happy. What most parents probably never imagine for their children is a battle with depression, anxiety, or other mental disorders. However, with rates of mental illness rising, this a reality many parents must face. Parents who suspect their child may be suffering from a mental disorder may feel lost and helpless when facing their child’s struggle, but they can take courage in knowing they can have a profound positive impact on the mental health of their children.

Anxiety and depression are common mental illnesses experienced by teenagers. If you suspect your child may be struggling with anxiety or depression, you are already on the path to helping your child find healing. Your suspicions mean that you’re paying attention and you likely know what to look for. The following are some common symptoms of depression in teenagers:

  • Lack of interest in activities that were once found enjoyable
  • Withdrawal from friends and/or family members
  • Change in mood such as increased sadness or irritability
  • Fluctuation in appetite
  • Change in energy level and sleep habits
  • Unexpected poor academic performance

Depression and anxiety are internal disorders, meaning the struggle takes place within one’s mind. This makes these disorders much harder to see and detect in others. What this means for you as a parent is that if you are seeing symptoms of anxiety or depression, your child has likely already been suffering for some time. It’s important to not ignore these signs and become proactive in helping your child find healing and relief.

So how can you as a parent help your child who is struggling with mental illness?

First off, it’s good to know that treatment exists for these disorders. Counseling is shown to be effective in treating anxiety and depression. Seeking out a good counselor for your child can make all the difference in the world for someone suffering from the weight of mental illness.

In addition to counseling, there are many ways to implement healthy habits and routines in family life that promote positive mental health:

  • Physical exercise: Exercise is proven to increase mood and can be powerful in combatting depression. Make a habit of taking walks together as a family, riding bikes, or playing a sport together like volleyball or ultimate frisbee.
  • Diet: Eating healthy can have profound benefits for mental health. Try to add more fruits and vegetables to meals and cut back on fried foods and sugar.
  • Prayer: Helping your children connect with God can increase their hope and sense of self-worth. Lead by example by setting time aside for personal prayer and explore ways to incorporate prayer into your family’s routine. Don’t forget to pray for your children’s mental health and let them know you are praying for them.
  • Social relationships: People struggling with depression and anxiety tend to withdraw from others and become isolated. Help your child avoid this isolation by encouraging healthy social relationships. Enlist the help of other siblings if possible to get your child interacting with others.
  • Get outside: A change in scenery can be a great mood booster. Encourage your child to go for a walk or do homework outside, or go venture outdoors as a family.
  • Meditation: Help your child disconnect from the world of technology and social media by teaching simple meditation. Make time to be quiet, focus on breathing, and be present in the moment.
  • Practice patience: It can be easy to feel helpless and discouraged in the face of your child’s mental illness. Healing is a journey and takes time. Be patient with your child and with yourself.

Remember that your children don’t need you to fix them; they need you to love them. They need your support and encouragement. They don’t need to hear, “Just get over it,” or, “Other people are going through a lot worse than you. Why can’t you just be happy?” What they need to hear is, “I love you. I’m here for you. I see your struggle, and I am taking it seriously. I want to walk with you and help you get through this.” Make yourself available to your child. Help ensure it’s easy for them to choose healthy activities and make good decisions. Push them when they need it, but back off when they need rest. Also, don’t forget to take care of yourself. If you are empty, you have nothing left to give your children. If you strive to take care of your mental health, your children are much more likely to do the same. Lastly, give yourself grace. God makes beautiful things out of difficult situations. No matter what our shortcomings may be as parents, we still have the opportunity to help our children find healing.