I am so nervous to have teenagers… well I already do but I am just starting. My daughter & step-daughter are both in 7th grade this year & I’m already ready to climb in a hole… or run away to Tahiti… I haven’t decided which one yet! Hormones are all over the place!! Mostly just with my daughter (which doesn’t surprise me… parent paybacks right?!) Isn’t it the rule that you have to have a child that acts like you did as a child?
With these upcoming years, I know I have to watch for depression in my teenagers. It has become a lot more common & since depression & bipolar can be hereditary, I have to keep on eye on my daughter. It doesn’t help that our thought processes are very similar (distorted)… poor girl. She is my clone in so many ways … she thinks that it’s “creepy” how similar we are in looks & personality!
So with this (for me) and with MANY parents always asking me… “How do I know if my teen is depressed?” “How do I know it’s not just ‘normal’ teenage stuff?” “What should I look for if I think my child has depression?”
… I wanted to talk a little about teenage depression.
Depression in teenagers is hard to diagnose & difficult to manage as the parent (& the teen). This is a time when adolescent’s emotions, reactions, & behaviors are being heavily impacted by the change in hormones.
A lot of teenagers are not getting the treatment for depression because it is so often overlooked as puberty & their hormonal changes.
So how do you tell the difference between a teen trying to learn how to live with these changing hormones & a teen that is depressed? How do you know if your teen is depressed?
There is no easy answer to that… But below we will go through some of the signs & symptoms that your child may be depressed.
*For clarification… a teen is considered ages 13-19 years old.
It is normal for some emotions & behaviors that are similar to symptoms of depression to occur for teens (& adults). Know your child thought. Pay attention. When parents notice a drastic change in their child and this unhappiness or other symptoms continue for more than two weeks… these may be signs that your teen has depression and might require professional help from a mental health therapist.
Here are 12 symptoms & behaviors that parents might see in their teen and teenagers may notice in themselves that indicate signs of depression:
- Persistent unhappiness or sadness -this isn’t just your normal blues here & there… this is continuing on for a longer period of time.
- Loss of interest in doing things – does your teen want to quit activities their involved in? Do they just stop going? Do they stop doing things they used to enjoy?
- Withdraw from family and friends -do they isolate themselves? Do they stop wanting to go to family functions? (Yes, many adolescents start doing less with family & more with friends during this stage in life… but if this happens IN ADDITION to some of these other things then it would be something I, as a parent & a therapist, would get my child checked for depression)
- Excessive amounts of sleep, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep -this is another hard area because teenagers change their sleep patterns A LOT during adolescent years… that is normal! Again, is it just this happening or are these other signs coming into play too?
- Getting into more trouble, riskier behaviors, drinking or using drugs, or trouble with the law -And again… some teenagers do go down this path without it meaning they are depressed. This is also a symptom of a possible manic episode in Bipolar Disorder. It’s not just one symptom that appears (for any these disorders) … it’s multiple symptoms.
- Difficulty concentrating – is it hard for them to focus on things like school work, reading, or watching tv?
- Change in school work, interest in school or grades– For me, when someone tells me their teen all of a sudden started getting bad grades in school & not caring about it… I want to hear what else is the teen doing (checking for these other symptoms) because in my experience… this is one I see often in adolescent depression.
- Change in eating habits -sadly, this is a common time for eating disorders to begin. Eating disorders frequently co-occur with depression, anxiety & bipolar disorders. Look for significant weight loss or gain or a decrease or increase in appetite every day (aside from the increase I see in my teens eating more than I can afford! during these growing years).
- Feelings of worthlessness– are they feeling bad about themselves? Do they have continuous feelings of failure? guilt? or having let others down? Do they have a low self-esteem?
- Irritable or annoyed– do they show frustration or anger frequently? Over the small things? In my experience & in my opinion, I noticed that males that are depressed typically have this symptom.. they are quick to anger, they’re angry a lot, their very irritable… this is a sign of unhappiness… this is usually a sign of something deeper.
- Thoughts of being better off dead -there can be a difference between thoughts of being better off dead & suicide ideation. Many people experience times in their lives when they think life would just be easier if it was done… they wouldn’t be feeling all of this pain or hardship… people can have those thoughts and NOT be suicidal. BUT these thoughts need to be taken seriously & evaluated by a medical/mental health professional and could mean suicidal ideation.
Suicidal thoughts, suicidal talk &/or plans, or talking more about death are also very serious symptoms of depression that need professional help.
- Self-harm – usually this is seen as ‘cutting’ & it is unfortunately happening more & more among teenagers. Look for scars (commonly on the thighs, arms & stomach), look for bandages there, or maybe your child is covering those areas more than they would have in the past… always wearing long sleeves or jackets, not changing in front of you when they normally would have, not wanting to be in a swimsuit… these are signs and not tell-alls.
After reading through the list, we can see why depression in teens gets overlooked as “normal” teen behaviors. There are similarities… look deeper though. Know your child & pay attention to what is happening in their lives.
I know that is difficult as these are the years they are finding their independence without mom & dad (so they try to push us away at times)… but it is important, now more than ever, to find ways to continue to connect with your teen. Let them know you are here for them… you are here to help them (which might involve professional treatment), support them & be a listening ear (not a lecturing mouth).
You can help your depressed teenager. Knowing your child & knowing the signs & symptoms of depression in teens is a great tool for you. If you are concerned, please seek professional help.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts:
- call 911;
- call the National Suicidal Prevention Line 1-800-273-8255;
- call the nearest hospital;
- call your physician