The Connected Mom

If you're a parent to a teen or have teens you love, listen in. Today we're talking about teen depression--what to look for and what to do when you identify that a teen you love may be depressed. With all that is going on in our world it's so important to recognize the warning signs and have a plan when depression enters the picture. Dr. Jim Coil joins us and shares a lot of very helpful information and wisdom.

Dr. Jim Coil, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, has provided counseling services in the San Diego area for more than 25 years. Dr. Coil has worked extensively with adolescents, young adults, professional athletes, musicians and artists, collegiate athletes, and adults with struggling with depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and addictions including chemical dependency and sexual addictions, family dynamics associated with addiction, and individuals post-treatment and in recovery. "My approach to counseling is to develop a respectful and meaningful connection with each client through compassion and understanding. I provide a comfortable, safe, non-judgmental atmosphere to nurture self-understanding and support. I combine insight and guidance to equip you to have the skills to better manage your life, and in the process, obtain overall wellness, greater peace and joy."

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Creators & Guests

Becky Harling
Author of How to Listen So Your Kids Will talk and several others. Podcast host of The Connected Mom. A dynamic speaker who is passionate about Jesus.
Dr. Jim Coil

What is The Connected Mom?

Form a deeper connection with God, more empathic connection with other Moms, and more intentional connection with your child.

Welcome to The Connected Mom podcast, where we have conversations about connecting more deeply with God, more empathically with our fellow moms, and more intentionally with your child. I'm Becky Harling, your host of the Connected Mom Podcast. And I have with me today my illustrious co host, Sarah Wildman, who is a mama to two little boys, is hey, Sarah.

Hey, Becky. Well, it's so good to be here, as always. And I'm very excited about this topic. Let's introduce it.

Yeah, me too. Today we're going to be talking about teen depression, and we know that the statistics are rising. And our guest today is Dr. Jim Coil. I've known Jim for a number of years, and so I can call him my friend. However, he also has been a professor. He has Administrated, two intensive outpatient treatment programs which were designed to treat adolescents struggling with addiction. He currently serves on the faculty of Point Loma Nazarene University and Azusa Pacific University, teaching graduate psychology courses in marriage and family therapy. In addition to that, he enjoys time with his wife, Melinda, who I know who's lovely, and his daughters, Hayley and Katie. And okay, get this guy. He does celebrity impersonations. Uh, and he's also been involved in musical theater. He recently played the role of Maurice Bell's dad for Beauty and the Beast. I mean, even if we weren't going to talk about depression, Jim, I might have you on to just act out Maurice, because I love that show. Welcome, Jim. How are you?

I'm good, thanks. It's good to be here with you and Sarah. Appreciate being here.

Yeah, it's great to have you here. So today we're going to talk about teenage depression. And Jim, you wrote an article that I read in LinkedIn about the rise in teenage depression. And we know that it's huge right now. And so moms that are listening right now, if you have a teenager and you're not sure, I really want to invite you to lean in, maybe grab a notebook and take some notes on what Jim says, because I have a feeling this is going to be really profound. So, Jim, what are you seeing as far as the rise of teenage depression, and why do you think that's happening?

Well, um, I don't just base my opinion on we obviously look for trends, uh, what we experience in our office when we meet with teenagers. But we also look for research. And there's no really one identifiable factor that explains why it's, uh, rising amongst teenagers. But we are seeing there's a number of studies that point to factors such as social media use, a lack of coping skills, uh, academic and social pressure. It, uh, really has been on the rise and been a public health problem even before the pandemic. Um, from 2013 to 2019, teenagers in the United States, uh, had experienced episodes of one in five teenagers experienced episodes of major depression. And then the suicide rates among young people between the ages of ten to 24 has increased by 57% between, uh, 2007 to 2018. Um, however, we do think the pandemic has had a significant effect, um, primarily related to what we call COVID related grief. And, um, it's, it's not talked about. I don't see it much in the news. But between April 20, April 2020 to June of 2021, more than 140,000, uh, US. Children lost a primary or secondary caregiver, um, because of the pandemic. And we know that parental loss during childhood can lead to depression, uh, later in youth or later in life. Um, but the pandemic also introduced other stressors, including isolation from their peers, remote learning, and the economic burdens it placed on families, which could have, um, created dynamics that, um, would facilitate depression or may have intensified something that may have already been there. So, um, there's a number of factors. There is a wonderful, ah, resource too, that shows the impact of, uh, social Media and smartphones. By Dr. Jean Twenge. TW E-N-G-E she is a, uh, researcher, uh, at San Diego State University, wrote the book Igen, and basically showing the research that the most connected generation, the generation that's grown up with social media and smartphones actually reports the highest, uh, incidence of loneliness and disconnection. Mhm.

Wow. So Jim, as parents, what is the definition of depression? What are the kind of things that parents should be looking out for with a teen? I think a lot of us have an idea like, oh, they're sad or something, but what are those symptoms, I guess, that you're looking for when we talk about depression?

Well, there's a number of warning signs and symptoms that therapists usually look for are, um, the client reporting that they have been feeling sad or depressed pretty much every day for, um, no less than 30 days or longer. We can have a funk, we can have what we call the blues, but we can go through down spells, but don't necessarily meet the criteria for major depression. But usually when you see that for 30 days or longer and with that is, uh, tearfulness or crying, uh, expressions of feeling hopeless. Uh, maybe withdrawal from social or family relationships, isolation, usually a loss of pleasure in the things that they once enjoyed, the thing that they actually got them going in the day or they were looking forward to. They don't seem to be engaging in that or not even expressing much of an interest in it. You, um, also look forward change in sleep patterns. Um, so they may be under sleeping or over sleeping or waking up during the night. Any changes in appetite, increased, um, eating, or actually a reduction in eating. Uh, and with that comes some you should assume significant weight changes, uh, and then restlessness, um, and the lack of enthusiasm, a decrease or a total lack of enthusiasm or motivation. Those are all warning signs. Um, difficulty thinking, concentrating usually, uh, it's because they're preoccupied with depressing or morbid thoughts. Uh, they can have thoughts. And this is not unlike what adults might experience too. I'm trying to not think about whatever those thoughts are and I can just become overwhelmed and actually almost disconnect because I'm so preoccupied with whatever these depressing thoughts are. Um, feelings of guilt, shame or worthlessness. And sometimes those are not being expressed or certainly felt, but sometimes they can be observed just by seeing the shift in the way your child's behaving. Uh, and with that, because, uh, their mind is so preoccupied with some of these things that hate has physiological effects. So they can have increased fatigue and low energy, uh, and then have frequent complaints about physical symptoms. They might be complaining more about their stomach aching or headaches or being tired all the time. And those could be actually physical symptoms that they're experiencing. It also could be a way for them to somatisize because maybe expressing that they're depressed isn't okay with them. You know, it comes with a certain amount of stigma. So some people will actually be more concerned about going to a doctor for a stomach ache or a headache that are happening all the time versus saying, I really been feeling depressed and low for quite a while.

So, as moms, Jim, uh, when we see those signs, I mean, we're tempted to, like, completely freak out, right, and panic. And yet that's probably not the most helpful response. One, uh, of the things that you talked about in your article was to open the conversation. But my question to you is how do you get your kid talking about this kind of stuff when maybe they have completely shut down or they've isolated in their room and they don't want to converse?

Well, one of the things I think, before is having a little mental, uh, preparation. And one is tell my parents to remember what being a teen is like. Um, that could be one of the things is that sometimes we're pathologizing things that are actually quite normal. But remember what it was like to be a teen. There's a time of change. First, uh, job, learning to drive. Um, maybe spending less time with parents, maybe having their first crush or relationship. Uh, and remember, the brain is still developing. We know the frontal lobe that is executive functioning and gives us the discernment about whether we should do something or not has been fully developed, um, until 25. And also, our social media can have a significant impact on our team's lives. We're noticing. The research is showing that for young women, it's correlated with body dissatisfaction as well as anxiety, depression and low self esteem. That doesn't mean that I haven't seen that impact young men to, um I got a call from a friend saying, who do I, uh, who can I have my son see, because the way he feels about himself rises and falls depending on how many likes he got on some kind of photo or post he made. So, um, they can make them feel anxious, um, social media, they can make them feel anxious about a lack of approval or fear of missing out, things like that. But I think one of the things too is before you have that conversation, watch for some of the cues that we talked about. Um, one of the cues can be, um, they might be bringing up mental health topics on their own. Um, they may mention a friend who's going through something that, ah, they might be feeling themselves and just asking them what that's like for them and asking them if they've had experiences like that themselves. Watch for those cues that are kind of, um, openings. Um, there are certain things that clients or your children will say that can create an opening for a conversation. Um, and then asking them general questions about what's going on in their life, what it feels, how, um, they're feeling, what are they experiencing. Uh, and once you've begun that dialogue with your team, um, your team must really believe that, um, you're hearing what they're telling you and you're recognizing the importance of it. So validating their feelings is really important. Uh, minimizing their feelings is not going to work. Well, that's still me. Why should you feel that way? Look how pretty you are. Look how handsome. You've got all these things going for you. When somebody is depressed, they may know that, um, you may have had your own experience. Sometimes I tell my parents, have you ever had an experience where maybe you went through a season where you weren't feeling so well and it might have been because of some significant situation, uh, in your life and people are pouring into you all these wonderful acolytes? And, uh, um, my own experience with that is I realized it just didn't sit because there was a hole in my bucket. It can just pour right out and we hear it because we're going through this really challenging period. So the other thing too, is to try and listen without judgment. This will help your child relax and open up. Um, and, um, uh, it can make them feel like it's okay to come to you just by if you just remain calm and open. M, that can establish a level of trust. And if you're not sure how to bring the topic up, uh, consider watching a movie. You can watch a movie that maybe deals with this topic or some other program as a starting point. And choose a time when they're not tired or stressed out and watch the program together. Uh, and then ask them open questions like, how are you feeling about it? What are you thinking about? You, um, can do that without a movie or something like that. But certainly that can be an entry point too. Um, uh, and if they're not open to talking right away. Let them know that you're there for them when they have when they're ready. Uh, this is what we call it. It's somewhat paradoxical. I, um, don't want to talk about this right now. Um, well, I'm really interested, but, um um um, how about I'm here when you're ready to talk about it? And, um, you kind of force the issue that oftentimes won't bring up resistance. And we know that even Jesus said, I stand at the door and knock, right? If any man opens the door, I'll come in. He doesn't bust the door down. So sometimes the only time I would ever be intensive or really say, we need to do this at some point, is if there's some serious indications that they're really, uh, in need of help right away. But you want to remind them it's okay to ask for help, and that asking for help is not a sign.

Of being weak, just jumping in there. Jim, on asking for help, something we've talked about in other episodes of The Connected Mom is, of course, having the skills that you've talked about, listening well, keeping that conversation opening. But, um, when you realize that maybe this is beyond you, right. And your parenting skills, um, what should parents do? What should they do when professional help looks like it's probably what they need to bring in as their team.

Well, I think probably the first step would be calling a licensed, um, mental health professional, uh, maybe it's a licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed clinical social workers, psychologists, uh, and reaching out and just getting validation for some of the concerns that you're seeing and expressing to them. And usually they will encourage that you meet, um, with them sooner rather than later and bring your team with you to have that conversation.

And how does that work in introducing the idea to your team? That's another story. I'm thinking it's like, okay, this is a big deal, right? And you're trying to control yourself as a mom. I'm thinking about this. And then introducing this idea that a stranger might be able to help. Do you have any tips on that?

There are times when, um, young people, they want to feel normal like anybody else. They're, um, just like adults, uh, they want to be normal. They may deny that they have depression. It's very common. They may push back on it. But one of the things you can say is, I'm concerned. And you can express your observations of their behavior without judging them. I don't know what this is, but this is what I've seen. And you give them specific examples, and it doesn't have to be you overwhelm them with a ton of them. It can be some specific examples of what you've seen and how that raises a concern for you. And, uh, especially if you have more than one parent, if you've got a couple of people, you've got another sibling that says, jake, I'm concerned because I know you've said a few things about, um, things will be better off when I'm not here. Comments like that. You've made comments that made me wonder if you're thinking about killing yourself. And so I want you to go see someone. So sometimes an intervention like that or the other thing too, is, um, I want us to go together because this is at least I want an outside observer to see if there's anything that we need to be concerned about. And I'd like for us to go together and talk about this because this is beyond I would do this if you had a broken leg, if you're home and you protested when you were little. Sometimes they won't like that. Stories about when they were little. You did not want to go to the doctor. I don't want to go to the doctor. I don't want to get this cut or something help. But this is outside of my ability to help you with.

So what if they flat out refused, Jim? What if they just say, I'm not.

Going to go if flatout retrieves? One of the things I encourage, um, parents to do is go without your team. Go make an appointment with a therapist without your team. Because that therapist can coach you on effective ways to, um, respond to the situation, to the child. But oftentimes it creates a little bit of curiosity on the part of the child. Sometimes they'll say, well, you know what, I think I want to go so I can share my side of the story. It's kind of an indirect hook. Uh, so if teens are watching, uh, this guys don't go, I don't know that they will be, but I mean, that is part one. You go for yourself because you need I have a lot of people who come see me. They go, hey, um, comes to you because I want to get my husband to stop drinking. And I'll say, um, well, that would be great. Is your husband going to come? Oh, no, he's not going to come. Well, I can help you know how to respond differently to the husband with um, there's a possibility it creates a conversation where he'd be willing to come in and maybe address the issue. So the same thing is true with seeking counseling without your team. Um, that would be an effective thing, I think would be very often the team will follow.

So I have a question for you, Jim. Let's backtrack a little bit. What about the moms that don't have teens yet? Maybe they have ten year olds. Like maybe they're in that ten to twelve category, that Tween category. What can they do now to kind of help a little bit so that maybe their kids can avoid the whole depression thing in teen years? Is there anything they can do? Or is it just kind of like, well, maybe it'll happen. Maybe it won't. I don't know.

Well, certainly we know that, uh, parental involvement, um, goes a long way to reducing parental involvement, um, by both parents is a significant factor. Whether the, uh, kids being exposed to things that they, um, might enjoy, um, that doesn't mean that they might take up everything. I had my daughters, uh, um, I was very active tennis player one time, and I had them go to tennis lessons, thinking they may just decide they want to be play tennis. They did not I being soccer. It was very clear to me that Haley won. She, uh, was content just to kind of hang out by the goal. You could see the little kids in those early they're all around the ball and everything, and she's like, well, I don't care too much about that ball.

But, yeah, we had one like that, too.

And you expose them to maybe dance. This is, uh, some of the things that maybe the school can provide, but anything, um, involved those kind of things can be helpful, too. I want to make sure I understand your question right? So that's one of them is, what can I do to be maybe prevent any, um, occurrence of depression? Is that what your question was?

Yeah, just kind of like, how do we help them? I mean, I know there can be a genetic predisposition towards depression, um, but I wonder if there were steps that parents can take so that their child feels more connected and more, uh, positive about life in their Tween years. Especially because I think those years can be a little bit rough, too, before the teen years.

Well, I think that, ah, the involvement affirmation goes a long ways. Um, we do know that teens, it is a part of where they're beginning this separation, right. Hopefully, at some point later, parents are effectively able to launch their child. Right. But we also know when there's a lack of acceptance, um, or emotional availability at home, usually youth will become more peer dependent to derive their self esteem from. Does that make sense? So it doesn't mean that peers aren't important. But when there's a lack of acceptance or love and nurturing at home, they'll seek that outside of the home, they'll seek that they're more likely to be dependent on pure approval, no matter what form that takes. I mean, I knew guys back in high school, they got a lot of approval for doing some really crazy stuff, high risk behavior, uh, and they got a lot of applause, and everybody knew this was not okay. But now I know that they were vulnerable to seeking that because they weren't getting, uh, much, uh, attention at home. We have a saying that negative attention is better than no attention at all. Yeah, I, uh, think that's important. That doesn't mean you have to hover over your child all the time, like the helicopter.

Yeah. I think you and melinda, I knew you back, uh, when we were all living out in California. And, um I believe I'm correct. You were both working while you were raising the kids, and yet your kids felt really connected to you. So talk about that balance a little bit, because a lot of the moms that are listening are like, oh, no, maybe now I need to quit my job and stay home and do the whole home school thing. And maybe that's not what they've been called to do. Right? So how do you keep that connection when both parents really need to work?

Maybe I've thought about this over time. I, um, lost my mom, uh, last year. And my mom was a maverick in her day. She was a maverick. She was a working mother when it was really socially unacceptable to be a working mother. I think it was in high school. I learned later that some of the grief that my mom got from women in the church or women on our neighborhood and stuff like that, but she was so involved in our lives. And so, hopefully, um, uh, whatever the mother's occupation is, she is able to somehow be intentional about those times. The, uh, quality timepiece that they are emotionally available to their child in some fashion, they still are able to carve out time to go to their games or go to their, um, dance recitals or whatever that is. And so, um, I don't know if that's helpful or not, but I do know that it's much more common for, uh, women to work outside of the home now more than ever, especially more than was back when my mom was doing it. And I think that was a pattern that I've seen other women. I'm, uh, not just saying my mom was the only one that did that. I know that, um, my wife has been very intentional about being involved in my, uh, daughter's lives. And I, uh, like to think I am, too. But I know that she's the first one they call when they want to talk about something, because when they don't talk to me, they do. But I think that is an important thing. How can I be intentional about knowing that, um, my child believes are seen and heard? We all have that desire to be seen and heard. And, um, how can I do that?

Yeah, I love that. Um, I love the emphasis on the word intentional, because, um, I think there can be a lot of guilt for working moms, and yet there are a lot of moms that stay home, perhaps, that maybe aren't intentional. So I think whether you're working or whether you are a stay at home mom or whether you're working from home, the key is intentionality and really connecting with your child. I think one of the things that was a priority that Steve and I, when we were raising our kids, um, was to really know their friends and their coaches and who were the people really speaking into their lives? I, um, know it can be inconvenient at times for parents, but we tried to have our home always be open, and sometimes it was crazy. Right. But we wanted the kids in our home because then we knew a little bit about what was going on. So when we had teens, I could tell you all of their friends, and so could Steve, and that was important to us.

That's an excellent point. Uh, be the coal parents. And I will say cool parents got to be careful with that, because I worked with teens who said, my parents were cool. They smoked pot with me. Right. And then those same kids, those same kids two weeks later would say, my parents aren't cool because they never prove.

Oh, yeah, I mean, we weren't cool parents.

We just knew their parents knew them. But the other thing, too, is, um, we actually give some thought about putting a pool in the backyard because we wanted to have them come here, your house, but we didn't do with that kind of expense. But if you can create an environment where, um, they think they can have fun at your home, watch movies, um, have slumber parties, or at an early age and have to bring their friends around and want you to know their friends, and when you go to the.

School, there's one more point. Uh, I realize we're almost out of time, but there's one more point. I mean, I could talk about this topic for hours, but we don't have hours. And I know that the moms are leaning in to listen. Jim, what part would you say prayer for Your Kids plays in this whole realm of mental illness fear, anxiety, depression. How does prayer help us as moms help our kids?

Wow. I'd say it's so important. Um, I think it's a weapon. I don't even know if the weapon is the right word, but in our arsenal that I don't know how non believers, um, err when their child goes through period depression or, um, I think it also allows us to have some discretion about, um, asking for wisdom. Because you're going to find people within this field that may propose things that just don't feel to fit right with, um, what might be best for your child. But I do think that prayer is so important, and especially if your children have witnessed you praying and knowing how you believe about prayer, then they're more apt to use that as a way for them to combat feelings of sadness or depression. That may be preventative of them going into a period of depression. But the other thing, too, is we got to be careful not to overspiritualize depression. There was a prophet that got depressed, right, in scripture. And we know David went through periods where, uh, he was very low. So we got to be careful but prayer is very important in terms of praying for our kids, uh, and them being aware that prayer is something that they can enlist when they're struggling with something, um, much like we do.

Yeah, I love that. Jim, speaking of prayer, we are out of time. I, um, love everything you said. I hope that you moms that were listening took notes. But, Jim, before I close us out, would you just pray now, especially for the moms who have teens in the home, and after hearing you, they're like, yeah, I am seeing some of those signs. Would you just pray for them?

Sure. Heavenly Father, um, we thank you for among your many attributes and names, one of them is Wonderful Counselor. And Lord, right now, there are those who may be listening that are concerned about their child experiencing maybe early signs of depression or maybe worsening signs of depression. I want to pray that you will, uh, come near them, use this broadcast, and provide them other resources in their community they can reach out to to support them in having these conversations and getting them the support and the help that their child may need. Or we thank you that, um, there's no stigma with depression in your world and in your church. We thank you that you are very familiar with depression. We know that you've grown in agony. You've experienced everything you can imagine. And so you love us and you care for us in ways that we've only just have a glimpse of understanding. And I pray, Lord, that you will come near these women, these m mothers, and provide them the resources that they need to get the help that their child most desperately needs at this time. And we ask this in Jesus name.

Amen. Hey, Jim, thanks so much for being with us. You've been listening today on The Connected Mom podcast, and we hope you'll join us next week for another episode. And if you liked today's episode or you know a friend that might need this episode, would you share that on your social media? And join us next time for The Connected Mom Podcast.