Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression: Part 1
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Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms and Helping Your Child
Teenagers face a host of pressures, from the changes of puberty to questions about who they are and where they fit in. With all this turmoil and uncertainty, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between normal teenage growing pains and depression. But teen depression goes beyond moodiness. It’s a serious health problem that impacts every aspect of a teen’s life. Fortunately, it’s treatable and parents can help. Your love, guidance, and support can go a long way toward helping your teen overcome depression and get their life back on track.
Is my teen depressed?
The teen years can be extremely tough and depression affects teenagers far more often than many of us realize. In fact, it’s estimated that one in five adolescents from all walks of life will suffer from depression at some point during their teen years. However, while depression is highly treatable, most depressed teens never receive help.
While occasional bad moods or acting out is to be expected during the teenage years, depression is something different. The negative effects of teenage depression go far beyond a melancholy mood. Depression can destroy the essence of your teen’s personality, causing an overwhelming sense of sadness, despair, or anger. Many rebellious and unhealthy behaviors or attitudes in teenagers can be indications of depression. The following are some the ways in which teens “act out” in an attempt to cope with their emotional pain:
Problems at school. Depression can cause low energy and concentration difficulties. At school, this may lead to poor attendance, a drop in grades, or frustration with schoolwork in a formerly good student.
Running away. Many depressed teens run away from home or talk about running away. Such attempts are usually a cry for help.
Drug and alcohol abuse. Teens may use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to “self-medicate” their depression. Unfortunately, substance abuse only makes things worse.
Low self-esteem. Depression can trigger and intensify feelings of ugliness, shame, failure, and unworthiness.
Smartphone addiction. Teens may go online to escape their problems, but excessive smartphone and Internet use only increases their isolation, making them more depressed.
Reckless behavior. Depressed teens may engage in dangerous or high-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving, binge drinking, and unsafe sex.
Violence. Some depressed teens—usually boys who are the victims of bullying—can become aggressive and violent.
Teen depression is also associated with a number of other mental health problems, including eating disorders and self-injury. While depression can cause tremendous pain for your teen—and disrupt everyday family life—there are plenty of things you can do to help your child start to feel better. The first step is to learn what teen depression looks like and what to do if you spot the warning signs.
What are the signs and symptoms of depression in teens?
Unlike adults, who have the ability to seek assistance on their own, teenagers rely on parents, teachers, or other caregivers to recognize their suffering and get them the help they need. But that isn’t always easy. For one, teens with depression don’t necessarily appear sad. Instead, irritability, anger, and agitation may be the most prominent symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of teen depression:
- Restlessness and agitation
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Depression in teens vs. adults
Depression in teens can look very different from depression in adults. The following symptoms are more common in teenagers than in their adult counterparts:
Irritable or angry mood. As noted, irritability, rather than sadness, is often the predominant mood in depressed teens. A depressed teenager may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated, or prone to angry outbursts.
Unexplained aches and pains. Depressed teens frequently complain about physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches. If a thorough physical exam does not reveal a medical cause, these aches and pains may indicate depression.
Extreme sensitivity to criticism. Depressed teens are plagued by feelings of worthlessness, making them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection, and failure. This is a particular problem for “over-achievers.”
Withdrawing from some, but not all people. While adults tend to isolate themselves when depressed, teenagers usually keep up at least some friendships. However, teens with depression may socialize less than before, pull away from their parents, or start hanging out with a different crowd.