Teen Depression: Here's How to Look for the Signs
20% of adolescents experience clinical depression by the age of 18. This number is rising every year.
Even worse? An estimated 80% of Americans with strong symptoms of clinical depression never seek treatment.
Depression is something a lot of people don't understand and don't like discussing. It's not just a matter of being sad or feeling blue. Depression affects the brain chemistry and reinforces to the sufferer that other people don't care about their struggles.
Because of the stigma associated with mental illness, teens and adults alike worry that if they tell someone about it, they'll either be dismissed as "just feeling sad" or seen as mentally ill.
The hard truth is, no matter how close you and your child are, this is one thing that they may not come to you with.
If you still don't think you should talk to your teen about depression, consider this:
5,400 teens commit suicide each year and untreated depression is the number one cause.
Don't let tragedy befall your family. Read on to find out how to recognize the signs of depression and what you can do to help.
Is Your Teen High Risk for Depression?
Some life situations put teens at higher risk for depression than others, so it's important to be aware if any of these affect your child:
1. Depression or Mental Illness Runs in Your Family
While outside factors can sometimes play a large role, research suggests that depression and other mood disorders are often inherited.
If depression or mental illness runs in your family then you already have a headstart. Talking with your teen goes a long way and knowing that somebody close to them suffers from depression can help make them feel less isolated.
2. Disability or Chronic Illness
If your teen has a disability (learning or physical), it can alienate them from their peers.
Even if they're treated well by others, they can view themselves as "broken."
3. Stressful Life Events
Even if you have no history of mood disorders in your family and your teen is the picture of perfect health, an unusually stressful event such as a family death, poor school performance, or a break-up with their significant other can lead to depression.
4. Family Problems
If a relationship with a parent or family member at home is strained, it's often a precursor for depression.
People need a safe place to get away from the stressors of the world and feeling stressed at home can leave your teen feeling constantly overwhelmed.
Note: Keep in mind that even if all of these triggers are absent, your teen can still develop a depressive disorder or go through depressive episodes.
Signs of Depression
Teens are naturally prone to mood swings, but if you notice that they're frequently short-tempered and prone to sudden bursts of anger, it could be a sign of a deeper issue.
2. Withdrawal from Parents or Friends
If you see a sudden decrease in the amount of time your teen spends with friends or they become less respondent with you, you may want to talk with them and find out if there's a reason for it.
3. Frequent Headaches or Stomach Aches
People suffering from depression often experience physical symptoms as well. This can be partially psychosomatic, offering them a chance to avoid the pressures of work or school, but it doesn't mean they're "faking" it. Physical manifestations of depression can be very real and severe.
4. Lethargy or Feeling Tired All Day
Another common physical symptom of depression is a lack of energy and enthusiasm. If they're frequently napping or waking up late in the day, take notice.
People suffering from depression often have trouble sleeping at night and stay in bed late.
5. Loss of Interest in Activities They Used to Enjoy
Depression isn't so much a feeling of being perpetually sad. It's more like feeling constantly empty. It makes people feel helpless and hopeless, and they stop getting enjoyment from things they used to like.
If your child quit the sports team suddenly or doesn't enjoy creating artwork like they used to, this is one of the biggest red flags for depression.
6. Changes in Behaviors
You might notice that your teen has started eating significantly less or more, or that their grades have started slipping. Maybe they skip homework frequently.
Anything that has you saying, "that just isn't like them," could be a potential warning sign that your child is feeling depressed and needs your help.
What Can You Do?
First, be aware that you should NOT just "let it run its course." Depression can be very serious and often leads to lifelong issues or suicide.
Depression is very treatable using medications and/or therapy.
Open the Discussion
This is the first and most important step. If you don't seek therapy or medication for your teen, it's essential that you still talk to them about depression.
Never be judgemental about what they might say. You may be frustrated that they're skipping homework, shoplifting, or trying drugs or alcohol, but keep in mind that depression affects the sufferer's ability to reason.
These behaviors may be dangerous, but they're symptoms of a much larger issue that needs to be treated. Reprimanding them will only make them shut you out.
Listen more than you talk, and most importantly, let them know that you care.
Depression is a self-sustaining loop. It tells us that no one cares about our problems and that we're suffering alone. This makes us feel more isolated, which makes us feel more depressed. And the cycle continues.
Don't just tell them that you care, make sure they know. Even after talking with them once, depression has a way of coming back and hitting twice as hard when the victim is feeling better.
There's a dangerous stigma associated with seeking therapy that often scares people away from getting the help they need, but there's nothing shameful about it, and you need to be able to explain that.
Psychotherapy alone may not be enough to treat severe depression, but it can be an important part of treatment.
Resolution Ranch offers a place for teen boys to take a retreat for six to eight months and receive the behavioral therapy they need to recover from depression, anger management issues, or substance abuse problems.
Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Sometimes it can be changed by cognitive behavioral therapy, but more severe cases often require the use of antidepressants.
Medication may or may not be right for your teen, but if their depression is severe, it could be life-saving.
The conversation starts with you.
If your teen is exhibiting any of these signs or if you have any reason to be concerned, don't wait a single day to open a dialogue with them.
Your teen could be suffering as you read this and think that they're suffering alone.
Don't let them go another day without your help. Talk about depression today and let them know you care.