Teenage depression can be a bit of a taboo topic. Many parents wonder at some point, “Is my teen depressed or is this a normal part of the teenage years?” However, most people are afraid to bring it up with their children or talk about it to other people.
Truthfully, it can be hard to distinguish between a hormonal, moody teenager and one who has true depression. The teenage years are a roller coaster of emotions and mood swings, which can make it difficult for parents to spot the warning signs of depression.
But the latest statistics show that close to 20% of teenagers will experience a period of depression at some point, which makes it extremely important for you to be able to notice the symptoms. And more importantly, please know that if your teen is depressed, you are not alone and help is available.
What is depression?
Depression is more than just being sad. Usually, there will be sudden, behavioral changes in your teen and they will lose interest in things they used to enjoy.
When your teen’s ability to function and lead a normal life is hindered, it could be depression. Generally, doctors classify depression as sadness that lasts for longer than two weeks. But it can last for a much longer time too, such as a year or more.
Teenagers with depression are more likely to suffer from other mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia. Eating disorders are also more common among teens who are depressed.
Depression can also lead to other dangerous things, like drug use, criminal activity and even suicide. If your teen is feeling hopeless, it opens the door to things they might not normally do when they are feeling like themselves.
This is why it is so important for you to be educated about the topic. You should know how to tell if your teen is depressed and what treatment options are available.
Is your teen depressed?
Here are some common warning signs to watch for in your teens. Granted, a teenager who is not depressed could exhibit some of these behaviors too, but if you notice five or more of them, you should talk to your teen and seek treatment.
Sadness, including crying frequently. This goes beyond normal teenage drama. If your teen is sad all the time for no apparent reason, this is a huge indicator of depression.
Irritability or anger. Yes, teenagers can be unpredictable and have outbursts, but if you notice this happening more frequently, it could be a warning sign.
Sleeping most of the day. Many teenagers like to sleep in so this one can be tough. However, you are looking for changes in behavior. Is your teen suddenly sleeping until 3pm when they used to get up at 10am?
Trouble sleeping at night. Conversely, some teenagers suffering from depression are unable to get an adequate amount of sleep each night.
Changes in appetite. This could be an increase OR decrease in their appetite. It could also include a sudden weight gain or loss.
Loss of interest in doing activities that they used to enjoy. If you teen is quitting their clubs or sports team, you should pay close attention.
No motivation. Have you noticed a change in your teen’s level of motivation? Are they experiencing low energy levels and having trouble getting things done?
Lack of empathy. If your child suddenly shows a loss of sympathy, understanding and being able to relate to others, this could be a warning sign.
Low self esteem. Teenagers suffering from depression often feel that they do not measure up to everyone else.
Having trouble in school. A sudden drop in grades or an “I don’t care about school” attitude is a sign of an issue.
Isolating themselves from friends and family. Many depressed teenagers stop spending time with their friends and hide in their rooms so they don’t have to interact with their family.
Problems concentrating. Depression can cause your teen’s brain to constantly jump from one thing to the next so they have issues staying on track and completing tasks.
Reckless behavior. Some teenagers with depression turn to drugs, alcohol or sex to try and feel better, even if only for a short period of time.
Self harm. This could include cutting, burning or pulling their hair out.
Suicidal thoughts or attempts. This one seems obvious, but some teenagers do not receive help even after confessing that they are thinking about hurting themselves or others.
What causes teenage depression?
There are many different things that can cause depression, including genetics, physical, mental and environmental factors. From a biological perspective, depression is caused by a low level of serotonin and imbalance of norepinephrine in the brain.
Statistically, girls are twice as likely to suffer from depression than boys. Gay, bisexual and transgender teens are at a higher risk of depression, self harm and suicide. Genetics may also play a part; having a parent who suffers from depression can make you more likely to experience it too.
Often, teenagers experience a “trigger” that sets off an episode of depression. Some common triggers in teens include divorce, changing schools, bullying, traumatic events, peer pressure, relationship issues, financial struggles, death of a loved one, or stress from school or activities.
What treatment is available?
According to The National Network of Depression Centers, 80% of teenagers who seek treatment for depression will show improvement within four to six weeks. Unfortunately, only half of teenagers affected by depression will seek treatment.
There are many different options available, but some of the most common are out-patient counseling and residential treatment. Depending on the severity of the episode, your teen’s doctor may also prescribe medication.
Recent studies have shown that physical activity and dietary changes may help with depression. This could be because exercising releases endorphins, which are commonly know as the “feel good” hormones. Exercising and eating well could also give your teen increased self confidence and mental clarity.
What can you do if your teen is depressed?
First of all, remember that this is not your fault. The most important things you can do for your teen right now are to offer them support and get them professional treatment. Then, make sure to stay involved in their treatment.
Continue to educate yourself about teenage depression. If your teen wants to talk to you, make time to listen to them. Validate their feelings and keep the lines of communication open.
Try to encourage them to exercise and eat a healthy diet. You could even offer to exercise with them and prepare healthy meals for them.
And don’t forget to talk to your teen about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Know the warning signs of drug or alcohol abuse and look for them in your teen.
What other resources are available?
National Institute of Mental Health
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
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