What can you do to help a teen who has depression? During our Spring 2018 Teen Depression Webinar, Matthew Selekman, MSW, LCSW, shared many strategies to equip you and your teen to focus on the positive and nurture the practices that work.
Watch our free webinar for additional suggestions from Matthew Selekman. You’ll also hear from Elizabeth and Danielle, sharing insights from their lived experience of teen depression as mother and daughter.
The Three S’s
This is a great place to start with a teen (and even for yourself). The Three S’s is a framework and philosophy that helps your teen check in and monitor wellness.
First, the teen learns to pay close attention to feelings and thoughts. How are the thoughts affecting feelings? By focusing on their emotional and physical wellbeing, the teen can begin to think about what activity or practice may bring them comfort.
In this step, the teen checks in with themselves to see if the self-care activity is making a difference for their emotional and physical distress. If not, the teen moves on to the next step.
The last S encourages the teen to turn to a trusted adult and ask for help. Consider helping the teen make a list of people they can turn to (e.g., parent, other family member, community member, school nurse, doctor, and others).
The following activities are not one-size-fits-all. It’s important to share many different activities with teens so they can choose the models that work best for them. It’s also important to note that even though an activity works once, that doesn’t mean it will always be effective.
Visualizing Movies of Success and Joy
Matthew often uses this practice with teens who self-harm. This activity is a way to help a young person recall and relive positive experiences.
To try this activity, first have the teen identify the theater they usually go to for a movie. Imagine sitting in the chair and looking up at the blank screen. Have them close their eyes and picture the blank movie screen. Using all their senses, have them create and describe a movie of something that they have achieved and that makes them really proud of themselves. Matthew shared that “what typically happens, with their eyes closed they start to smile. It triggers positive emotions which can then neutralize negative emotions.” Learn more about how to perform this exercise here.
Matthew described a mindful eating exercise he calls “Taking a Trip to Popcorn Land,” but there are many different mindful eating exercises teens can try. Our personal favorite is Mindfulness and the Art of Cholate Eating! Mindful eating is a great way to introduce the concepts of mindfulness to teenagers and make it an enjoyable experience.
How many of us take a walk and really pay attention to our surroundings? More and more we see people focused on their phones. Mindful walking encourages you and your teen to be grounded in the moment by paying attention to what you see, hear, and smell.
Encourage the teen to keep a journal of events or experiences that make them happy, smile, laugh, or feel joy. The teen can pull out this journal when they are struggling as a way to boost their mood and encourage positive emotions. Laughing can release endorphins and support physical wellness!
Many of the exercises above can be done individually, partnered, or as a family. However, the following exercises are specifically used to encourage relationship building and connection.
Teen Mentors Adult
Put the adolescent in charge of mentoring the parent, guardian, or caring adult in a skill that the teen excels in. The parent has to be a good student and respect the authority of the teen teacher. The teen has to be a good teacher by being patient and sharing their knowledge. This activity encourages the adult to recognize a skill the teen has and build a relationship through something the teen enjoys.
Imaginary Feelings X-ray
Have the teen lay down on a long sheet of paper. A parent or sibling can draw an outline around the teen’s body. Then ask, “Suppose we have a magical feelings x-ray machine that shows us pictures of what we feel. Draw where those feelings live in your body. You can draw scenes in your life that capture those feelings.”
Matthew shared that this exercise can be very powerful to do in the company of family members. For some, this could be the first time they really understand what is going on internally for the teen.
Keep learning! Watch our Teen Depression webinar with Matthew Selekman and Elizabeth and Danielle. Available now.
- Register and watch our Teen Depression Webinar on demand. Learn about building resiliency and finding solutions for a teen living with depression.
- Want to work with your teen to monitor and track symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder? Order a set of our Depression and Bipolar Disorder Wellness Guides for Parents and Teens.
- Visit Partners for Collaborative Solutions to learn more about Matthew Selekman and his work with families.