A Parent’s Guide to Adolescent Depression. It is not always easy to distinguish between normal teenage pain and depression. But here’s how you can recognize the signs and symptoms and get the best help for your child.
How To Tell If A Teenager Is Depressed
Adolescence can be very difficult, and depression affects teenagers more often than most of us realize. In fact, it is estimated that one in five teenagers from all walks of life will suffer from depression at some point during their teenage years. However, even though depression can be treated, most teenagers with depression never get help.
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Teen depression is more than just sadness. It is a serious health problem that affects all aspects of a teenager’s life. Fortunately, it is treatable and parents can help. Your love, guidance, and support will go a long way in helping your teen overcome depression and get her life back on track.
Help is available, and you have more control over your feelings than you think. No matter how depressing life is right now, there are many things you can do to change your mood and feel better today. Read How To Cope With Teenage Depression.
While the occasional low mood or aggression is expected in adolescence, depression is something else. The negative consequences of adolescent depression go beyond melancholic mood. Depression can destroy the core of your teen’s personality, causing extreme sadness, hopelessness, or anger.
Many rebellious and bad behaviors or attitudes in teenagers can be signs of depression. Here are some ways that teenagers “act out” to deal with their emotional pain:
A Parent’s Guide To Teen Depression
Constantly negative mood. Constant crying due to intense feelings of hopelessness is a common symptom of depression. However, depressed teenagers don’t have to look sad. Instead, the most prominent symptoms may be irritability, anger, and restlessness.
Problems at school. Depression can cause low energy and trouble concentrating. In school, this can lead to poor attendance, low grades, or academic disillusionment for a previously good student.
Loss of interest in activities. Outside of school, you may notice that your teen shows less enthusiasm for their favorite hobbies. They may quit a sports team or hobby, for example, or withdraw from family and friends.
Escape. Many depressed teenagers run away from home or talk about running away. Often such attempts are a cry for help.
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Drug and alcohol abuse. Teens may use alcohol or drugs to try to self-medicate their depression. Unfortunately, substance abuse only makes the situation worse.
Smartphone addiction. Teenagers can go online to escape their problems, but excessive use of smartphones and the Internet only increases their isolation, making them more depressed.
Relentless attitude. Depressed teens may engage in dangerous or risky behaviors, such as reckless driving, drinking, and unsafe sex.
Sudden changes in sleeping and eating habits. Depressed teenagers may spend more time sleeping in bed than usual or, conversely, experience insomnia. You may also notice that your teen eats more or less than usual.
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Although depression can cause great pain to your teen and interfere with everyday family life, there are many things you can do to help your child feel better. The first step is to learn what teenage depression looks like and what to do if you notice the warning signs.
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Depression in teenagers can be very different from depression in adults. The following signs and symptoms are more common in teenagers than in their adult peers:
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Irritable or angry mood. As previously mentioned, anger, rather than sadness, is often the primary emotion of depressed teenagers. A depressed teenager may be angry, irritable, easily frustrated, or prone to temper tantrums.
Unexplained pains. Depressed teenagers often complain of physical ailments, such as headaches or stomach aches. If a thorough medical examination does not reveal a medical cause, these pains may indicate depression.
Extreme sensitivity to criticism. Depressed teenagers suffer from feelings of worthlessness, which makes them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection, and failure. This is a particular problem for “overachievers”.
Rejection from some but not all people. While adults tend to isolate themselves during depression, teenagers usually maintain at least some friendships. However, teenagers with depression may become less social than before, leave their parents, or start hanging out with different people.
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If you’re not sure if your teen is depressed or just a “teen,” consider how long the symptoms last, how severe they are, and what your teen’s behavior is like. Hormones and stress may explain occasional bouts of teenage anxiety, but not constant and unrelenting sadness, lethargy, or anger.
Teenagers with severe depression, especially those who also abuse alcohol or drugs, often think about, talk about, or attempt suicide—and surprisingly, more and more succeed. Therefore, it is very important that you take any suicidal thoughts or behavior seriously. They are crying out for help from your teen.
If you suspect that a teenager is suicidal, act now! For 24-hour suicide prevention and support in the U.S., call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Line at 988. To find a suicide helpline outside the U.S., visit IASP or Suicide.org.
To learn more about suicide risk factors, warning signs, and what to do in a crisis, read Suicide Prevention.
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Biological factors, such as genes, can increase a teenager’s risk of developing depression. However, environmental and social conditions also play a role. The following factors can cause or worsen the symptoms of depression in a teenager:
Intimidation. Bullying by peers can add stress to a teenager’s life and affect their self-esteem. This, in turn, can cause feelings of extreme helplessness and hopelessness.
Other mental and physical health conditions. Teen depression is associated with many other mental health problems, including eating disorders, self-harm, anxiety, ADHD, or a learning disorder. The struggles that accompany these conditions can leave a teenager feeling insecure and frustrated when it comes to learning and socializing. Similarly, physical disabilities or chronic diseases can also play a role.
Past and present stressful experiences. Past trauma from situations of violence or abuse can put teens at risk for depression as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recent events, such as the loss of a loved one, can also cause a depressed mood.
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Lack of social support. Adolescents who do not feel supported by family or peers are at risk for depression. For example, a teenager may struggle with his sexual identity in a hostile or unaccepting environment.
Some studies have found a link between teenage depression and social media use. Teens who spend more time on social media tend to report higher levels of depression than their peers. Several explanations may explain this relationship:
Other causes of depression in teenagers may include alcohol and drug abuse, family problems, and academic difficulties. Depression can also cause or exacerbate these problems, creating a cycle that needs to be broken.
Depression can be very damaging if left untreated, so don’t wait and hope that anxiety symptoms will go away. If you suspect that your child is depressed, express your concerns in a loving, non-judgmental way. Even if you’re not sure depression is the problem, the bad behavior and emotions you’re seeing are signs of a problem that needs to be addressed.
How To Help A Depressed Teenager
Start the conversation by telling your teen what specific symptoms of depression you’ve noticed and why they’re bothering you. Then ask your child to talk about what they are going through, and be willing to really listen. Avoid asking (most teens don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re willing to give them whatever support they need.
Focus on listening, not lecturing. Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment when your teen starts talking. The main thing is that your child is talking. You can do the best by simply letting your teen know that you are there for them, completely and unconditionally.
Be gentle but firm. Don’t give up if they shut you down at first. Talking about depression can be very difficult for teenagers. Even if they want to, it can be difficult for them to express their feelings. Respect your child’s comfort level while emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.
Acknowledge their feelings. Don’t try to talk your teen out of depression, even if his feelings or worries seem silly or unreasonable to you. Well-intentioned attempts to explain why “it’s not so bad” will show that you don’t take their emotions seriously. Just acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing will go a long way in making them feel understood and supported.
Depression In Teenagers
Trust your gut. If your teenager claims that things are not right, but there is no explanation for the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts. If your teen won’t talk to you, consider reaching out
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