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Encinitas psychologist lays out tools for teens struggling with depression

REGION – Life during a pandemic has led to many changes for children, some of whom have struggled to adapt to a new way of life.

Encinitas child psychologist and Cal State University at San Marcos adjunct professor Kristine Brady, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Virginia Tech, said she’s witnessed a rise in depression amongst children and teenagers.

At first, Brady expected to see more cases of anxiety, but based on her own clients and available research, kids are battling depression due to more isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, she said more teenagers are calling for treatment from a psychologist, something Brady said she has never witnessed in her two decades-plus as a licensed therapist.

“I was expecting to get a lot of anxiety, but I got the opposite,” she explained. “I’ve had at least five people call me saying their teenage boy has specifically asked for a therapist. I’ve never experienced that in my entire career.”

Brady said those teenagers are at a vulnerable age as they are beginning to separate from the adults through going to school, with their friends and at home. But now, those opportunities are fewer because the teenagers are stuck at home, she said.

It’s called individuate, which is the formation of a separate, distinct identity, Brady said. The kids, and adults too, are losing daily social contact and affiliation.

“It’s a basic drive we have, adults too,” she added. “They’re really suffering from not going out and having things to look forward to. I think people are getting very irritable and getting down.”

Brady said another aspect is the lack of control from the pandemic. Teens can no longer just hop in their car, or meet with friends, on a whim.

The result is isolating in their rooms, which adults can see either as their kids need time away or as a disrespectful act. If the latter, Brady said, the situation becomes an argument instead of support.

As for what parents can do to help, she said, parents must understand their kids. They can practice patience, listen and not assume what’s happening in their kids’ lives.

Also, Brady said parents must understand their child’s personality and if a child is active, suggesting more problem-solving activities. For those calmer kids, try more in-house activities; for sensitive kids, allow more time to respond; and more intense kids may need more time.

“I’m not saying drop expectations,” she said. “But if you meet fire with fire you get an explosion. And parents need to modify their behaviors to meet their child’s needs. Kids do well with relatively flexible parents who set standards that are warm and flexible.”

As for resources, Brady said the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, Lives in the Balance and the Black Dog Institute are organizations with the tools to help both parents and kids.