Teen depression is a serious thing. 10 to 15% of adolescents have symptoms of depression. Depression among adolescents can lead to substance abuse, suicide, trouble in school, and occasionally, all the teen shootings we’ve seen in the news lately. We need to find an effective way to help our troubled teens.
Studying the Effects of Optimism
There has been a great deal of study lately on optimism, and its effects on mental health and substance abuse. We generally think of optimistic people as being happier, and therefore, healthier; but it hasn’t actually been shown to be true among teens until now. A new study coming out of Australia and that was reported in Pediatrics journal shows a slight correlation between optimism and improved mental health among teens. The study followed 5,639 adolescents for 18 months to determine their level of optimism, and then compared that with their mental health. The top 25% most optimistic teens were half as likely to have depressive symptoms as the most pessimistic teens. The study did not, however, find that optimism had anything to do with a decrease in heavy drug abuse. This would suggest that optimism is needed to help our kids avoid mental health problems in the teen years, but it will obviously not fix all their problems.
Optimism is only a slightly learned behavior by the time people are adolescents. Most people are established in their role as an optimist or pessimist at a young age, and there might not be much we can do to change that. But learning certain thought processes to be more positive about situations can help.
It makes sense that optimistic people are happier. Someone who always thinks the worst of things or expects bad things to happen will be more likely to be sad and depressed. Someone who sees no hope in a situation and no way out may easily turn to substance abuse or another addiction to help them get by. Instead of looking for healthy solutions that would make the situation more positive, a negative person will just accept something bad as their lot in life.
Researchers say that parents should work to teach optimism to their children at a young age. This will help in at least some ways to develop a more positive attitude. But maybe the most important thing for parents to teach their child is to have a wider perspective on life. A teen who is pessimistic may only be focusing on themselves and their downfalls. This can quickly lead to depressive symptoms. But a teen who has learned to see what’s going on around them, and to look at the needs of others or the struggles of their friends, may have a better outlook.