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Monitor Your Busy Teen for Depression

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Now that we are into the second half of the school year, I am beginning to see a fair amount of adolescent kids (way too many!) who are feeling overwhelmed with school and all of the other things thing have going on in their lives.

For many of my patients the day begins before dawn as they head out the door (frequently without breakfast) to begin their very long day. Many have before school practice for drill team, band or even an off-season sport that involves an early workout. These teens then get finished with their early morning commitments just in time to shower and head to class. Still, no time to eat or even down a smoothie or granola bar, or so they say.

Next comes a full day of classes, often with honors and AP classes (up to five in one semester) with a 30 minute break for lunch, if they choose to eat. For those that do eat, it is not a well-balanced lunch, but rather pizza, hamburgers, or a bagel and Gatorade. Remember this is the first food they have had since the previous night (when I am sure they went to bed far too late). As the end of the school day approaches many of these teens will head to after-school jobs, or extracurricular activities such as yearbook staff, newspaper staff, debate team or a different athletic team than their morning workout. If they remember, they might eat a Power Bar, or grab a Red Bull or Starbucks to keep them going until they eventually head home. For many they will not get home from their school day until long after dark with a lot more still to do.

Hopefully, these kids will manage to sit down for dinner (can we say well-balanced) with some family member (many may have already eaten earlier), but they jump right up after gobbling down their food, to head off to do homework.

For many high school students, especially those carrying a heavy pre-college load, there may be several hours of homework, which won’t be finished until 11 p.m. or later if they are lucky. Somewhere they will also fit in on-line computer time to catch up on FaceBook, or e-mails and texts, while doing a multitude of other things like watching their favorite TV show that has been recorded to fit their schedule. Many report that they have difficulty falling asleep. DUH – their brains are on overload and can’t stop, and then they only get about five to six hours of sleep a night.

With all of that being said I can totally understand how stressed out our adolescents are. They want to succeed, they want to be involved, and they constantly worry about what lies ahead. There are actually seventh and eighth graders already talking about SAT prep, and college resumes as if they were already high school juniors. How is this happening? How can we stop this out of control pressure?

I certainly don’t know how to solve all of the issues surrounding adolescent stress, but I do know that parents can play an active role in helping their teens manage their time.

While we don’t want to be overly involved or helicopter parents, parents do need to discuss the issues of stress and over commitment when they see their child struggling. Sometimes it is appropriate to step in and say, “I see you need some help with this” and work together on time management.

The days will come all too soon when you are not there to help lead the way or ensure that your son or daughter eats breakfast and dinner, or gets enough sleep. For many teens just helping them see the “big picture” and re-adjusting their schedule a bit, will be all they need to feel a little less pressure. Sometimes, they just need to talk about it and will move on.

But if your adolescent seems to be overwhelmed, and is getting more anxious or depressed, make sure to talk to their doctor about getting some professional help. There are many people ready to help our teens, we parents just have to recognize when it is needed.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

What do you think?  I welcome your comments and thoughts below!

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