Expert Health Articles

The Winter Blues: Checking in on Your Teen’s Mental Health

Grace Eberly, DO

Caughman Health Center
Pediatric Associates of Northwest Ohio

It is a well-studied but often-forgotten phenomenon that each year during the winter months, up to 10 million Americans will experience symptoms of depression. As its name implies, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disturbance thought to be caused by the effect of shorter days and decreasing amounts of sunlight on the brain.

For most people who experience these “winter blues,” spring brings with it renewed life and increased optimism. However, some will have persistent symptoms that carry on long after the flowers have begun to bloom. Now is as good a time as any to check in on your loved ones and offer them support.

Adolescents & Depression

This can be an intimidating task for parents of adolescents, who are often afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. However, the need is urgent. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among individuals 15-24 years of age, second only to unintentional injuries for those aged 10-14. Practice makes perfect, and if you make a habit of checking in regularly, your child may be more willing to open up or bring concerns to you on their own in the future. It’s important to remember that, as a symptom of their depression, your child may not believe that their problems are deserving of anyone else’s time or attention. Prove them wrong. Listen to them without offering judgment or criticism. Validate that their experiences and emotions are real and important. 

What You Can Do

There are small things you can do at home to help support your child. Establishing consistent routines (for example, regular family meals and sleep schedules) provides your child with structure and a sense of predictability, which can be critical when life feels like it’s spiraling out of control. “Behavioral activation” is a helpful exercise that relies on the understanding that our behaviors influence our emotions. Engaging your child in healthy, positive activities – even when they would rather stay isolated in their room – helps to break the cycle of depression. These activities should be tailored to your child’s interests and don’t have to cost money. For starters, you could take a walk together, cook a meal, do a puzzle, watch a sunset, or explore somewhere new. Don’t let their depressive symptoms “talk” them (or you) out of it.

Don't Wait to Take Action

Finally, it is important to remember that depression is just like any other medical problem. Therefore, you should always feel comfortable partnering with your child’s pediatrician to get them the help that they need. For some patients, this may involve a combination of counseling and/or medication. If at any time you are worried about your child’s safety or they express an intent to harm themselves, take them seriously and do not wait. Make sure all firearms and dangerous medications are under lock and key or removed from the home. Then call or text 988, the 24/7/365 suicide and crisis lifeline. Demonstrate to your child that there is strength in asking for help.