Dear Dr. Beal,
My daughter is always locked in her room lately. It’s hard to get her to come outside and be a part of our family. She is 16 years old and I know that teenagers need their own personal space, but I am afraid she is depressed. Her friend group has changed, and she has broken up with her boyfriend. Should I be worried?
Signed, Worried Parent
It is not unusual to worry about your teenage daughter. Adolescence can be a very difficult and challenging time for most people. It’s the developmental period of trying to fit in, relationships forming or dissolving, them thinking they know more than their parent because adults were born stupid, and the era of making many choices. Traditionally, prior to COVID-19, I would tell parents that the very first sign to look for in a teenager who may be having difficulty is change; a change in their behavior. For instance, if they stopped doing the things they used to do in the past without notice; like being around family members or wanting to be seen in public with you. Their sentences became one word answers. They appeared to be angry all the time, shutting everyone out. If they changed their peer group and started to hang out with new people. (These people would not be someone you would have chosen). Finally, if they did not have the same level of motivation that they had in the past. Sleeping too much or too little, not eating or overeating. In addition, we would look to see if drugs or alcohol were playing a part in the behavior that was seen and trying to understand.
However, for the last eight months we have been experiencing a pandemic that has changed everything in our lives. This change happened so fast and clearly has had an impact on our social and emotional wellbeing as individuals, which could cause someone to develop depression and anxiety. One, because their life has changed or two, because of the fear associated with the virus.
Unfortunately, the nationwide closure of schools has negatively impacted over 91% of the world’s student population. The mandatory home confinement of children and adolescents is associated with uncertainty and anxiety which is attributable to disruption in their education, physical activities, and opportunities for socialization. They have watched adults go into a panic mode of purchasing items for fear of not having enough if things got really bad.
If your daughter suffered from depression prior to COVID-19 you may be seeing a continuation of her previous symptoms. However, if they are new, you need to talk to her. Here are a few suggestions.
- Ask her to come out of her room for a few minutes.
- Go to a space that you normally would not go to talk.
- Walk around the block or to the park.
- Allow her to talk without asking her a lot of questions.
- Start the conversation saying you have been stressed and maybe apologize for some of your behavior.
- Follow up with; so how are you?
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