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Understanding Teen Depression

Understanding teen depression

Teenagers already face a tough time. Depression can make these years even harder and it’s more common than you think. One in five adolescents will suffer from depression at some point during their teen years. Luckily it’s very treatable, as long as they receive the help they need.

Depression goes beyond just moodiness. It can severely affect their everyday life. But, with a parent’s love, support and guidance, teens can get their life back. 

Is my teen depressed?

Parents of  teenagers know occasional bad moods happen. It’s actually expected. However, a teen dealing with depression is quite different. Signs of depression go much further than just an occasional feeling of sadness. Untreated depression can change a teen’s personality, create an overwhelming sense of sadness or even anger. In fact, many behaviors of being rebellious or certain attitudes may be an indication of depression. Here are some indicators your teen or adolescent may be acting to deal with their emotions:

  • 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. Using alcohol or drugs in an attempt to self-medicate. 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 technology use (ex. phones/tablets/videogames) 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 victims of bullying can become aggressive and violent.

Depression can be associated with other mental or behavioral health issues that include self-inflicted injuries and eating disorders. Depression can also cause pain for your teen and family, but their are ways to help. Understanding what depression might look like is a great start to get the help your family needs.

Signs and symptoms of teen depression:

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Poor school performance
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • 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.

Even though your teenager might show some of these signs at some point, it doesn’t mean they are depressed, they could just be being a teenager. So it’s important that you recognize these signs and see how long the symptoms are present. It’s very easy to confuse hormones and stress for occasional teeange angst, but prolonged and continuous symptoms accompanied by unhappiness, irritability and lethargy may be a bigger issue.

Suicide Warning Signs 

Teens with serious untreated depression can often times think, speak or or attempt suicide. It’s vital to take and thoughts or behaviors very serious. 

Suicide warning signs to watch for

  • Talking or joking about committing suicide
  • Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out”
  • Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”)
  • Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide
  • Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for the last time
  • Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves

Get help for a suicidal teen

If you suspect that a teenager is suicidal, take immediate action! For 24-hour suicide prevention and support in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. To find a suicide helpline outside the U.S., visit IASP or Suicide.org.

How to Help a Depressed Teen

Depression is very damaging when left untreated, so don’t wait and hope that worrisome symptoms will go away. If you suspect that your teen is depressed, bring up your concerns in a loving, non-judgmental way. Even if you’re unsure that depression is the issue, the troublesome behaviors and emotions you’re seeing are signs of a problem that should be addressed.

Open up a dialogue by letting your teen know what specific depression symptoms you’ve noticed and why they worry you. Then ask your child to share what they’re going through—and be ready and willing to truly listen. Hold back from asking a lot of questions (most teenagers don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.

Getting your teen immediate help by talking to professionals is the best step you can take to getting them the help they need to start getting their life back. Visit AltaBehavioralHealthcare.org or call (330) 793-2487