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What Fathers Can Do to Get Through to Their Depressed Sons

Here's how to read the signals in your son's behavior.

Being a father can be difficult. It seems like only a year ago, your son wanted to be like you, was always by your side and looked to you for advice and approval. Now he is irritable, barely speaks to you, isolates in his room and, frankly, doesn’t smell that good. Is he just being a teenager, or is it something more? Is he depressed? It is very important for you to find out. Depression can have serious consequences.

Since the 1990s until 2007, there had been a steady decline in the rates of suicides among teenagers, but it is now on the rise. In 2015, suicide became the leading cause of death among Utah teenagers. Girls are about twice as likely as boys to report seriously considering suicide, but boys are almost three times more likely to succeed in committing suicide.

As a father, you can do something to prevent it going that far. Understanding the warning signs of depression can help you determine if your son is just trying to find his own path or may need professional help. You need to start by looking for changes in attitude, emotions, or behavior that result in problems at home, school, social activities, and other areas of life.

Some changes in emotion or attitude may include:

  • Feelings of frustration or anger, even of small matters.
  • Feeling hopeless, empty, or numb.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Feelings of sadness or crying for no apparent reason.
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be pleasurable.
  • Loss of interest in friends and/or family.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things.
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying, or suicide.

Some changes in behavior may include:

  • Tiredness and loss of energy.
  • Changes in appetite, weight loss, or weight gain.
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much.
  • Isolating including social isolation.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Poor school performance or frequent absences.
  • Use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Angry outbursts, agitation, or restlessness.
  • Self-Harm: cutting, burning, or piercing.
  • Making a suicide plan or an attempt.

So, what can you do? You probably want to have a “man-to-man” talk with your son. That is a good place to start, but it is vitally important that you remember the 3 Cs — “Calm,” “Curious,” and “Compassion.”

Calm — Your son is in an emotional place and needs you to be calm, which will help ground him when having the conversation.

Curious — To quote Dr. Steven Covey, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” Be curious and listen to what your son has to say without judgement. Ask for clarification when you do not understand. When at all possible, talk less and listen more.

Compassion — Validate your son’s feelings. This does not mean you agree with why he feels that way but that he is allowed his own feelings. Ask what you can do to help. Let him know you will be there if and when he needs you.

This is not a one-time conversation, but the basis for an ongoing dialogue with your son. Then it is imperative to follow through on what was discussed. You could begin a whole new chapter in the relationship with your son.

Remember, there are teachers, school counselors, therapists, and medical professionals that can provide additional support. If you ever feel your son’s life is in danger, go to the nearest emergency room and seek help from dedicated mental health professionals.

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