School's out, now what? Why summer isn't paradise for every teen

For teens with depression, summer can be a tough time.
For teens with depression, summer can be a tough time.

You might consider summertime the paradise of youth, but for some teens, those long, unstructured days can be anything but bliss. With school out, temperatures rising and free time abounding, it might seem strange that the summer months might leave some teens feeling anxious, depressed and even trapped – but for teens with depression, those feelings may be substantially exacerbated when daily schedules and responsibilities are tossed to the wind.

The Problem: So long to structure

Summertime often means a break from that pesky alarm clock, but those early mornings running to first period and afternoons spent in sports and extracurricular programs might have been serving a greater purpose than testing your teen’s ability to shower in less than five minutes. Many teens with depression suffer during the summer because their routine has been disrupted – or completely dismantled. Instead of keeping their minds occupied and stimulated, teens might find themselves with too much time to think – and possibly sink into a depressive state.

The Solution: Creating the routine

Students Against Depression advises, “Making small changes to build healthier daily routines can make a very big difference in how you feel.” This is particularly true during summer. In my book, R U OK? Teen Depression and Suicide, I outline several ways teens can combat depression on a daily basis. These actions, when treated as routines, can significantly improve symptoms of depression. They include daily exercise, getting outside, getting a full night’s sleep, socializing with others, relaxing, eating well and consulting with a professional. Using these tips to create daily schedules can help keep your teen happy and healthy during the summer.

The Problem: Social isolation

WebMD appropriately labels social isolation a “depression trap,” because typically, isolation only worsens symptoms of depression. Teens accustomed to being surrounded by friends and peers at school every day can feel starkly alone when summer break arrives, particularly because isolation and depression feed on each other –the worse the isolation, the deeper the depression; the deeper the depression, the worse the isolation. For those with depression, isolation can feel like the safe and easy solution – an act of self-protection. That said, it is, without fail, only making matters worse.

The Solution: Socializing (even when it’s hard)

Social commitments are important – particularly for teens suffering from depression. If your teen is involved in social organization, like a religious youth group, sporting team or community group, encourage participation during the summer. Support your teen in finding employment or even volunteer work that will allow them to be around others on a regular basis. In R U OK? I encourage teens to frankly seek help from their friends, asking them to keep connecting even when the depression makes them push others away.

The Problem: Lack of stimulation

Many teens (and adults for that matter) feel more depressed when they’re experiencing a lack of stimulation. This can be exacerbated in teens with other issues, like anxiety or ADHD. Without the intellectual, physical and social stimulation provided by school, summer can be a difficult time. Constructive stimulation – like learning or participating in an extracurricular activity – not only boosts self-esteem and a sense of capability, but it also shifts attention away from depressive thoughts and feelings.

The Solution: Never stop learning

Summer is the perfect time for your teen to get a head start on the upcoming school year. Enrolling in summer classes or other programs that can help them develop new skills and talents is a great way to keep your teen stimulated throughout the summer. Keep in mind that you don’t need to schedule every minute of every day; down time and relaxation is also an important component of treating depression.

Summer is just around the corner. For the health of your teen and family, make sure you’re prepared for it. For more information on teen depression, check out thegriefgirl.com.

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