How To Naturally Treat Your Teen's Depression Without Antidepressants: A Holistic Pediatric Approach
Your child just isn’t themself. Depression in teens can manifest in surprising ways. It's not just a lack of motivation, sleeping a lot, fatigue, social withdrawal, and not showing interest in activities that they used to love. There are other depression presentations you might not know about. Each presentation or “pattern” has a different root cause, meaning we treat each of them differently. Where do these patterns come from? East Asian Medicine. With thousands of years of observational data and millions of teens receiving natural treatment for their depression over the centuries, it is one of the most effective and safest ways to alleviate teen depression naturally.
A Holistic Pediatric Approach To Depression For Your Teen
Looking at the root cause of your teen’s depression (and likely anxiety, too), is key to finding long-term relief and healing. Before I go any further, it is very important to use complementary medicine (such as Chinese medicine) in conjunction with a trained and licensed mental health counselor specializing in pediatric depression and/or anxiety. This is particularly important if your teen’s depression or anxiety is chronic or moderate to severe.
The combination of Chinese medicine (which addresses the physiological and energetic root causes of depression) and therapy (which addresses the cognitive and skills/techniques of managing depression), is both powerful and effective. If you cannot access both modalities at the same time, you may explore community mental health centers or look for a pre-licensed therapist. I also maintain a robust referral list of LGBTQ-affirming therapists and counselors who work with adults and kids, alike. I typically do not recommend community acupuncture for teens simply because a more individualized approach is most successful for a young person’s first foray into Chinese medicine, especially as it pertains to their mental health.
Teen Depression By Pattern: Assessing the Root Cause For Effective Treatment
What is a pattern? This might be a new concept for people who have grown-up in cultures where the only form of diagnosis is naming the predominant symptom or group of symptoms. To make that easier, Western medicine identifies “depression” or “anxiety” or “PTSD”. But Chinese medicine identifies the root cause of the symptoms your teen is experiencing, because there are more than a dozen root causes for depression in teens (or anyone) and the treatments are all different. That’s what makes Chinese medicine such an effective treatment for teen depression – we identify the imbalance and then work to correct the imbalance instead of offering meds to dampen the symptoms of depression.
Teen Depression Pattern #1: No Appetite, No Energy
This is the more “classic” depression presentation. It’s the kid who can’t get out of bed. Who sleeps 12 hours a night or naps hours and hours whenever they can. It’s the teen who, just a few short months ago, used to love playing any and every sport with their friends and who now resists any form of movement. Or who never had as much energy as their peers, but seems to be declining in their capacity for daily activities. It’s the kid who might never have had the best appetite, but now picks at their food with disinterest.
This depression pattern can occur over time with kids who were always on the lower-end of the energy and appetite scale and who have simply declined even further recently. OR, it can be a kid who got sick or had an injury and never quite recovered. We’re seeing this more and more during this prolonged pandemic with long-hauler cases. If this is your kiddo, reach out for a 20 minute Curiosity Call to finally get the support they need to feel themselves again.
Teen Depression Pattern #2: Irritability and Mood Swings with Chest, Stomach, and Menstrual Pain
This depressed teen is really irritable. More so than they ever were. These kids are very stressed-out and can even be showing early signs of collapse. They have a hard time regulating their emotions and may have increasing difficulty falling asleep. Being the parent of a teenager, it can be hard to tease-out what are age-appropriate levels of irritability and mood swings and what is a sign that your kid needs help. So let’s dig into some of the other symptoms of this depression pattern.
- Pain along the sides of the chest/breasts: regardless of your child’s anatomy, depressed teens in this group can experience sharp or shooting pains along the sides of their bodies or through the area of the chest/breasts. It can be very alarming because of the location and the intensity of the sensation. Some teens will say it feels like electricity. Others won’t say much, but you’ll see them wince or it might even take their breath away for a moment.
It’s normal to get worried when your depressed teen starts reporting chest pain (and important to visit your pediatrician to rule-out cardiac issues). But know it very well could be a symptom of their depression.
- Painful periods: For teens who menstruate, painful, crampy, even debilitating period pain is a cardinal symptom of this depression pattern. These are the teens who are popping OTC painkillers during their cycles or having to miss school, activities, or social time because of their period cramps.
- Stress tummy: These kids will inevitably get nauseous or have alternating constipation/diarrhea when they are stressed out. This can be the first sign of this depression pattern and show-up much earlier in life (even in the toddler years). So if you’re a parent of a young child or adolescent and recognize this in your child, seek support early-on to avoid more serious mental-emotional manifestations of this pattern.
Teen Depression Pattern #3: Worry, Obsessive Thoughts, and Digestive Issues
If your depressed teen often talks about being tired, and tends to overthink or obsess about things, they might have this teen depression pattern. Worry can manifest in different ways – as an inability to “let go” of certain topics, ruminating on perceived problems, or as trying to control their environment. These kids tend to have a hard time concentrating and remembering things which can make them the target of criticism by parents or teachers. These are the same kids who have trouble sleeping and might also describe anxiety as a fluttering in their chest or “I can feel my heart beating fast/hard.”
Often, there are digestive problems that come along with this depression pattern, too. In addition to a low appetite, these kids strongly crave sugar and tend to have loose stools or repeated, incomplete bowel movements which worsen with stress. They may feel bloated or gassy after eating.
If your teen menstruates, they might have either very heavy menstrual flow or very light flow. And regardless if they’re on the very heavy or very light side of things, they almost always feel pretty exhausted towards the end of their periods.
My Teen Doesn’t Fit Any One Pattern, Can Holistic Pediatrics Still Help?
As a parent, you want your depressed teen to come back to themselves, but they don't fit any single pattern. The truth is, no person is a “perfect match” for any one depression pattern. Patterns can (and do) combine in one body/mind. The beauty of Chinese medicine is that we’re trained to look at your teen and treat their specific pattern combination. No need to fit in any boxes here.