George Livengood, Assistant National Director of Operations, Discovery Mood and Anxiety Program
Sadness. Irritability. Withdrawal from friends. Weight loss.
Depression can reveal itself in different ways, but one thing is certain: with 12.8% of adolescents between the ages of 12-17 suffering a major depressive episode in the United States, it’s an incredibly widespread issue for our nation’s teenagers. Sadly, the many pressures of teen life; changing bodies, hormonal changes, social conflicts, academic pressures — can often create an extra psychological strain.
Untreated depression can be devastating to a teen’s emotional, mental, and physical health. Fortunately, treatment is readily available for teenagers in crisis. And by learning how to identify the signs of depression in your teenager, you can help get them the help they need at this difficult time. Let’s take a closer look at signs of teenage depression, and what to do if you suspect your teen is struggling.
What is Depression? And Which Teens are at Risk?
Known broadly as a type of mood disorder, depression goes beyond occasional moodiness, sadness, or apathy. Instead, it’s characterized by mood and behavioral changes that persist every day for at least two weeks. As a result of these feelings, the depressed teen often has difficulty with ordinary life activities, like going to school, hanging out with friends, eating meals, or even getting out of bed in the morning.
It’s important to realize that depression, like other mental health issues, won’t just clear up on its own. Depression is a complex disease that can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental factors — and it requires professional treatment and compassionate care.
Risk Factors for Teen Depression
Though every adolescent is different, pay careful attention to your teen’s mood and behavior if they experience any of these risk factors:
- Family history of depression.
- Stress. Schoolwork piling up out of control? Too many responsibilities, too little time? Stress can contribute to depression in teens.
- A history of abuse or neglect.
- Social issues. If your teen is being bullied at school or having difficulty with friends, they might be more prone to depression.
- Smoking cigarettes.
- Life changes. Sometimes teens are more prone to depression during a major life change, like parents’ divorce or move to a new home or school.
- Grief. When someone close to the teen dies, it’s normal and natural to feel sad. However, if the grief persists for too long, it could be a risk factor for depression.
- Physical/Psychological issues. Teens who have a chronic disease, an already-existing mental health disorder, or history of traumatic brain injury are at a higher risk for depression.
Signs of Depression in Teens
Because adolescents are going through a time in their lives marked by rapid change and serious social pressures, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between depressive behavior and the occasional bout of moodiness. After all, sadness is a normal emotion in most cases, and teenagers will understandably have a fleeting negative reaction to bad grades, an argument with friends, or stress at school. However, depression is marked by more serious, longer-lasting symptoms.
To help your teen, watch out for any of the major risk factors listed above. Notice if they seem to be reacting with irritation or sadness to a particular event, or if their mood changes seem to linger. And watch for some of these warning signs of depression:
1. Changes in Emotions & Mood
For many parents, mood changes are one of the first signs that their teenager is struggling with depression. You might notice that for the last two weeks or longer, your teen has been exhibiting:
- Increased anger or irritability
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Extreme sadness
- Agitation or restlessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in things that used to interest them
- Feelings of guilt
2. Changes in Behavior
An irritable or depressed mood is an important part of the picture when it comes to depression. However, behavioral changes can sometimes be your first clue that your teen is struggling. Keep an eye out for these behavioral changes:
- School Achievements. Did your star student’s grades just drop suddenly? Have they lost the motivation to hand in homework?
- Social Life. Have they stopped hanging out with friends? No longer want to attend sports practice, or other activities that interest them?
- Eating. Different people react to depression in different ways. Some teens with depression will overeat, while others will suddenly lose interest in food.
- Sleeping. Are they staying up all night? Or so tired that they can’t get through class without sleeping?
- Criminal behavior. Has your child recently started exhibiting violence towards peers or family? Criminal behavior like shoplifting?
- Unsafe behavior. Have you discovered that your teen has suddenly started engaging in promiscuous sexual behavior? Smoking and doing drugs? Drinking alcohol?
- Tech Addiction. Though many teens are voracious smartphone users, excessive smartphone use might indicate a problem.
3. Physical Changes
Sometimes, you might notice physical changes before you notice strange behavior. For example, you may not have noticed that your teen’s attitudes towards food had changed — but you’ll see the physical signs of sudden weight loss or weight gain. Or you may not realize they are having trouble sleeping — but you will notice that they seem physically drained and exhausted.
They may also complain of aches and pains that aren’t connected to anything in particular. It’s particularly important to watch for any evidence of self-harm on your teen’s body, as this is a serious sign of depression that can’t be ignored.
4. Suicidal Thoughts
If your teen is suddenly dwelling on or talking a lot about death or dying, this is a serious red flag. Similarly, if they express to you or anyone else that they’re thinking about suicide, this is a serious sign of depression. In these cases, it’s important to seek professional help immediately.
What You Can Do if You Think Your Teenager Is Depressed
Trust your intuition. You know your teenager better than anyone. If your instincts are telling you that something is deeply wrong, it’s time to take action. Trust yourself, and get help right away.
Listen. If you suspect there’s a problem, talk to your teen. Try to approach the situation with a calm and compassionate attitude, letting them know that you’re there for them.
Get help. If you suspect your teen is struggling with depression, seek professional help. As complex as depression can be, it’s also a treatable disease. There are many programs available to treat depression, including outpatient, inpatient, and intensive inpatient care to suit every need.
Find Treatment for Teens
Though it can feel scary if your teenager is struggling with mental health issues, it’s important to realize you’re not alone.
Together, you and your teen can seek professional treatment and fight back against depression. At the Center for Discovery, you can start the process of getting treatment for your team. The Discovery Mood and Anxiety Program treats teens who are dealing with depression and offers a free consultation. For compassionate care, contact us at 855.664.5702 or visit www.centerfordiscovery.