If you are raising a teenager, you know that these years are not easy — for either one of you. Some kids have a harder time during adolescence than others. Here is what you need to know about teen depression and how you can help your child cope.
What Is Depression
So, just what is depression anyway? Depression is a serious mental illness that has a negative impact on how you feel, what you think, and how you act. Persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in activities that were once very important are the results of depression. The symptoms of this medical condition can cause problems at work and in school and can also cause trouble in interpersonal relationships. Feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing are another distinctive feature of depression, including teen depression.
According to studies, an estimated one in 15 adults will suffer from depression in any given year. One in six people will experience depression at some point in their lives.
Sometimes it isn’t as easy to know if a teen is depressed. This is because parents aren’t always sure what is normal teenage behavior and what isn’t. Teenagers are prone to mood swings already. They are beginning to focus more on relationships with their friends and aren’t as involved with their parents as they used to be. Teens may change the way they dress. These are all normal teen behaviors, but sometimes they can be warning signs of teen depression too.
Depression often occurs for the first time during adolescence and/or early adulthood. Stress, hormone changes, peer pressure, school pressure, and the major life changes that come with growing up can all contribute to teen depression. But teen depression does differ from adult depression in a few important ways.
Depressed teens tend to have more irritability and anger than adults. Teenagers with depression frequently complain about unexplained aches and pains. Teens with depression are extremely sensitive to criticism. And finally, whereas depressed adults tend to isolate themselves completely, teens usually keep at least a few close friends.
Signs of Depression
Parents who are concerned about teen depression should watch for signs of depression, which can include both emotional and behavioral changes. For a diagnosis of depression to be made, symptoms must last more than two weeks. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the signs of depression parents need to look for in their teenager:
Emotional signs of depression
- Persistent feelings of sadness,
- Crying spells for no apparent reason
- Feelings of hopelessness or emptiness
- Feelings of anger
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak
- Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
Behavioral signs of depression
- Tiredness and loss of energy
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches
- Social isolation
- Poor school performance or frequent absences from school
- Neglected appearance
- Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors
- Self-harm, such as cutting
- Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt
Depression and Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are not the same as depression. Depressive disorders and anxiety disorders can exist independently. However, it is very common for depression and anxiety to go hand in hand. Anxiety can be a symptom of depression. Likewise, an anxiety disorder can cause depression. It is also possible to have both depression and an anxiety disorder. Fortunately, both depression and anxiety respond well to treatments such as medication and psychotherapy.
8 Ways to Help Teen Depression
If you are worried that your teenager may be depressed, there are several things you can do to help them cope. In general, you want to let them know that they are loved and supported. You also want to get them talking to someone they can open up to. Here are eight ways to help your teen cope with depression.
- Focus on listening instead of lecturing
- Don’t give up if they shut you out initially
- Acknowledge their feelings
- Encourage social connection
- Make physical health a priority
- Know when to seek professional help
- Provide love and support throughout treatment
- Remember to take care of yourself and the rest of the family
When to Get Professional Help
Sometimes, no amount of love and support from parents is enough to help teen depression. It is essential that parents know when to get professional help. Trust your gut. If your teenager tells you that nothing is wrong and they are fine, but your gut says different, always trust your gut. And most importantly, if your teen is severely depressed or you are concerned about suicide for any reason, it is time to seek help from a mental health professional. There are many treatment options available that can help your teen get their depression under control. A school counselor or your family doctor can help you find a doctor or therapist for your teen.
When placing your teen on medication to treat depression and/or anxiety, it is important to know that these drugs come with risks and side effects. But if your teenager is suffering from severe depression, the benefits may outweigh the risks. Antidepressants were tested on adults. It has since been discovered that these medications can actually increase symptoms of depression and suicide ideation in teenagers. For this reason, it is essential that teens taking antidepressants are monitored closely, especially during the first few months of treatment.
Teen Depression Can Be Overcome
If your teenager is depressed, take comfort in knowing that help is available. Once you recognize the signs of teen depression, you can begin taking steps to help your child cope. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There are treatments available that can help your teen overcome depression and get back to enjoying their lives again.