Building Resilience: How Self-Compassion Helps Teens with Depression

April 19, 2024

As parents, we often find ourselves navigating through the unpredictable waters of parenthood, facing challenges that test our resilience and strength. One of the most heart-wrenching journeys a parent can undertake is watching their teenager battle with depression. It's a journey marked by uncertainty, fear, and a deep sense of helplessness.

I have walked this path, hand in hand with my own teenager as she’s grappled with the heavy burden of depression and thoughts of self-injury. One of the toughest parts of this journey has been the stigma surrounding mental health. Society often fails to understand the complexities of depression, dismissing it as a passing phase or a sign of weakness. As a parent, I have had to advocate not only for my child but also reflect on my own behaviors and practices to ensure I was providing my daughter with healthy examples of how to navigate the ups and downs we experience in life. Speaking openly about loving myself and showing myself grace helped my daughter begin her own exploration and self-compassion practice. We have come a long way in this journey together and I can honestly share that we have weathered the worst of the storm; my daughter is in a much better space. Her depression hasn’t completely disappeared but her thoughts about self-harm have and checking in with her daily helps keep our communication open.

Research Reviewed: “Can Self-Compassion Help Teens With Depression?” by Karen Bluth, Ph.D

What are some key facts?

  • A CDC report in 2021 reported that 42% of teens, the majority of them females, experienced ongoing feelings of sadness and hopelessness that hindered them from doing normal things.
  • Today’s teens do not have a “safe space” to protect them from the outside world like past generations did.

What is Self-Compassion?

  • Treating yourself with kindness and support, especially when going through tough times and honoring those difficult emotions are a part of the human experience. We often do the opposite and place blame on ourselves and become self-critical when something’s happened that causes us to feel upset or bad.

What did the researchers do?

  • Researchers taught one group of teens the Mindful Self-Compassion for Teens program which included music meditation and comfort gesture exercises.
  • Researchers taught another group of teens a healthy lifestyles program.
  • All teens in the study were exhibiting depressive symptoms with the expectation that they would continue to increase as it tends to do with teenagers.

The researchers discovered that:

  1. The 59 teens in the self-compassion group were more than 2.5 times less likely to develop full-blown depression compared to the teens in the healthy lifestyle group suggesting that self-compassion course protected teens from getting more depressed.
  2. Through Mindful Self-Compassion teens might come to realize they aren’t alone in their experiences and that, instead, it’s part of being a teenager and/or human being.
  3. This study is backed by several meta-analyses that indicate teens who are more self-compassionate tend to experience less anxiety and depression than their peers who are less self-compassionate.
  4. Teens who are more self-compassionate are less likely to self-injure.

What does this mean?

  • Intentionally teaching and discussing self-compassion and building a community among youth is critical to their understanding of how we are all connected and helps minimize feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Self-compassion won’t solve all teens’ problems, but it provides them with perspective and strategies to navigate difficult experiences and times in their lives in a healthier way and may prevent them from spiraling into a depression and/or harming themselves.

TREC’s Takeaways

  1. Intentionally focus on discussing, teaching, and modeling self-compassion with our youth.
  2. Build communities of connection among youth to increase perspective and lessen the feeling of isolation.

TREC’s Trauma-Resilient Professional certification supports helping professionals like you learn how to effectively teach and model self-compassion, fostering communities of connection to empower youth and reduce feelings of isolation.

Thank you for reading! 

Summer Peterson

Vice-President, Educational Services | Lifelong Learning Administration Corporation

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