Adolescent Depression in Therapeutic Boarding Schools
Teen depression is more common than you might think. We would like to believe that adolescents are too young to have become so hopeless about the world, but today’s young people are facing more social and academic pressure than previous generations. Adolescence is all about trying to answer big questions of Who am I and What am I doing with my life? As young girls try to navigate their way in the social world, it is not surprising that these existential questions may leave them feeling confused and hopeless. They begin to believe that whatever they’re doing will never be meaningful enough.
The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.
What is Depression?
Rates of depression among young people have more than doubled in the past few decades and are continuing to rise. Either people are beginning to be more comfortable talking about it or stressors in our society are contributing to a generation of stressed and depressed teens. Although it is a disorder characterized by feeling helpless and hopeless, so many other young people feel the same way. Teenagers with depression are often categorized as “just going through changes” or being “overly hormonal,” but when signs of sadness and social withdrawal do not go away within a few weeks, it is more likely your teenager is struggling with depression and may not know how to cope.
Facts About Depression in Young People:
- Girls develop depression twice as often as boys.
- One in five adolescents struggle with depression.
- Only 30% of depressed young people are being treated for it.
- Up to 50% of youth with depression have a family history of mental health issues.
- Around ⅔ of teens with depression struggle with other mental health issues, like anxiety, low self-esteem, or attachment issues.
Signs of Depression
Depression is a vague umbrella term that is included in the definition of multiple mood disorders. It can be harder to pick up on signs of depression in younger children if they struggle to articulate their thoughts and feelings. If your daughter’s negative mood persists for more than two weeks at a time, it is possible they may be struggling with more than just normal feelings of sadness. Some signs of depression might include:
- Talking about feeling sad, lonely or stupid
- Frequently complains about aches and pains
- Has a negative outlook on life in general
- Thinks one bad outcome means everything else will be a disaster
- Loses interest in daily activities and expresses being bored easily
- Poor performance or poor attendance at school
- Obsesses about shortcomings
- Seems distant and isolates more often
- Dramatic changes in daily habits, like sleep and eating schedules
What Challenges are Associated with Depression in Young Girls?
Girls develop depression earlier than boys as they develop faster in terms of emotional regulation. Their sensitivity to their own emotions, the emotions of others, and the opinions of others can contribute to lower self-esteem and an unstable sense of self. Girls are socialized under stricter social norms than boys to be caregivers and people-pleasers. Girls are more prone to depression if they feel like they can’t measure up or be everything to everyone all the time.
- Feeling like they don’t fit in
- Feeling misunderstood
- Difficulty expressing emotions
- Social and academic pressures
- Change in friend group or social withdrawal
- Body image issues based on social expectations and poor self-concept
- Disordered eating
- Hormonal changes can intensify feelings of depression
What are the Causes of Depression in Teens?
While Depression is understood as a chemical imbalance in the brain that affects mood and feelings of pleasure, lack of social support plays a significant role in the development of depression in middle schoolers. Often, a depressive episode is triggered by what, to them, feels life a major life transition but without adequate support to manage their emotions, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness brought up by the event may linger. As young people often base their sense of self-esteem on approval from others, poor social skills and isolation are risk factors for depression.
Some factors that may contribute to depression include:
- Dealing with “Mean Girls”
- Changes in Friend Groups
- Trouble making friends
- Academic struggles, including learning differences or workload stress
- Moving houses, cities, or schools
- Marital conflict or parent divorce
- Loss of a pet or loved one
- Unhealthy lifestyle, including sedentary hobbies and an unhealthy diet
When Does Your Child Need Treatment for Depression?
Children spend most of their days at school, therefore school has a profound impact on their lives. This is where they build relationships, learn about life, academics, and how to socially navigate. If your child is struggling with negative experiences at school, declining grades, or school refusal and has had a hard time advocating for what they need with you or their teachers, they may benefit from a therapeutic boarding school for middle schoolers with depression. Specialized schools are designed to offer additional academic support for struggling teens while offering intensive therapy to make sure that teens stay on track academically. The clinical team works closely with accredited teachers to help depressed students have the support they need to succeed in and out of the classroom.
How to Talk to Your Child Struggling with Depression
- Start the conversation. Let them know that you are someone they can trust. They are probably scared of reaching out for help and are less likely to make the first step.
- Show that you are concerned. Not because you wish they were happier with their circumstances or have higher expectations for their success, but that you want them to feel safe and loved.
- Make an effort to understand what they are feeling and why. If they don’t know, don’t offer possible suggestions. Reflect back what they are saying to validate that their experience is real and that you hear them.
- Listen more than you talk. Don’t plan the next thing you are going to say or ask too many questions in the middle of their story. If they don’t want to talk, don’t force them. Be comfortable sitting in silence.
- Offer to look for treatment options together so that they can get the help they need. It is not your responsibility to hold onto or fix the way they feel, but you can help connect them to resources that can provide appropriate support and coping strategies.
How Do Therapeutic Boarding Schools, Like Asheville Academy, Help Teens Struggling with Depression?
Asheville Academy for Girls is a therapeutic boarding school that helps students with depression improve self-esteem, build social support, and rediscover activities they are passionate about. Depression can be insidious and has a significant impact on one’s outlook on life and ability to function in relationships and at school. Our goal is to empower young girls to learn how to identify and manage their emotions and to develop positive coping skills that will help them live happy and successful lives.
Addressing Belief Systems
We believe that depression involves the mind and the body, and combine traditional talk therapy, using Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy models, with adventure activities to improve their mood and challenge negative self-talk. As these beliefs have developed over time, it takes time for young people to internalize positive self-talk.
We offer daily mindfulness activities and emphasize lifestyle changes to improve self-awareness and work on decreasing depressive symptoms. We have a certified PE teacher on campus and incorporate weekend outdoor adventures into the girls’ schedules to improve their mood, physical health, and build their sense of adventure. Recreation empowers young girls to be confident, fun-loving leaders and engage with others in a positive way.
Leaning on Others
As a relationship-based program, we believe building relational skills and strengthening social support is the most effective form of treatment for recurring depression so that students are better prepared to manage symptoms as they may reappear throughout their lives.
What makes Therapeutic Boarding Schools Stand Out from Other Treatment Options for Depression?
Asheville Academy delivers year-round academic programming for grades 4 through 10. All core curriculum is aligned with national standards, ensuring that students are achieving at grade level and are able to transition smoothly into traditional school settings upon graduation. In addition to core content in the fields of language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics, Asheville Academy offers unique arts electives on rotating basis for class credit.
Integrating accredited academics into a residential treatment setting helps middle schoolers adjust to the least restrictive therapeutic environment while maintaining the structure of a school routine. For many students, taking a break from the stress of a traditional school environment helps them balance focusing on themselves with focusing on schoolwork and makes it easier for them to internalize new skills. Many middle schoolers who struggle with depression that choose treatment programs without academic options may make significant emotional progress, but struggle to transition back to a school setting and continue to apply the skills they’ve learned.