Your teen used to be a happy kid, used to spend a lot of time with you and their friends, and used to play sports. Lately, however, they have been irritable, kind of withdrawn and have not been to basketball practice in over a month. You wonder, what happened to my happy child? You wonder, is my child depressed or are they just going through a rough time? – but how do you know? And what can you do as a parent?
- Adolescence is a difficult transition and teens can experience “growing pains”
- Occasional bad moods or acting out are normal
- Some parental conflict is to be expected as they start to assert their independence
- Feeling sad or down are natural emotions and they can be reactions to daily stressors. Most people deal and get past these feelings within a few days.
Depression, however, is more than occasional sadness or feeling down. One in five teenagers has experienced depression at some point. It is a strong mood that lasts for weeks, months, or even longer. Depression also affects one’s energy level, motivation, and concentration, and subsequently interferes with their ability to function on a daily basis.
Symptoms of depression
- Persistent sadness or hopelessness
- Irritability, anger, hostility
- Tearfulness or frequent crying
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities
- Changes in eating habits
- Restlessness and agitation
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Negative/pessimistic thinking
- Insomnia or oversleeping
Some other signs to look out for:
- Problems at school due to low energy and concentration difficulties
- Drug and alcohol abuse – as a form of self-medication
- Low self esteem – feelings of ugliness, shame, failure, and unworthiness
- Increased use of the internet in order to escape problems, but causes further isolation
- Engagement in reckless behavior
- Self-harming behaviors
Teens don’t always show typical symptoms of depression such as sadness or withdrawal. For some, irritability, aggression, and rage are the main symptoms. Unexplained aches and pains, physical ailments such as headaches and stomachaches are also common as is extreme sensitivity to criticism, and changes in socialization.
Some things to consider: how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how different your child is acting compared to their typical self. Typically when teenagers withdraw or stop doing things they used to enjoy can be a sign that something is wrong. Dramatic changes in personality, mood, or behavior and/or changes in academic performance are all red flags for a more severe problem that requires immediate attention.
Tips on how to talk to your teen:
- Offer support
- Be gentle and persistent
- Listen and don’t criticize
- Validate feelings
- Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most common treatment for adolescent depression. Through CBT, adolescents are taught to challenge their negative thoughts that are common in individuals with depression and learn how to cope with their depression
- If depression is severe, treatment may involve a combination of individual therapy as well as medications such as antidepressants
If you are concerned your adolescent may be suffering from depression, talk to your health care provider and make an appointment to see a mental health professional. Speak to your provider or call a suicide hotline if you are worried that your child is experiencing suicidal thoughts. Call 911 immediately if you feel that your child is in imminent danger.
Written by Lauren Feiden, PsyD