- How to recognize the signs of depression in your teenager
- What causes teen depression?
- A word about suicide warning signs in teenagers with depression
- As a parent, how can you help?
- More ways in which you can help them as a parent are:
- Encourage them to connect with others. Isolation makes things worse.
- Ensure they get enough physical activity.
- When depression seems intense, do not hesitate to seek professional help.
- Discuss treatment choices with your teen and get their inputs.
- Don’t feel pressurized into seeking antidepressant medication because other treatments are expensive.
- Some tips to help your teens lower their stress levels
- Related reading:
The teen years are filled with social, emotional and mental challenges with pressure to fit in with peers while keeping on top of academic performance. Unrealistic expectations both at school and at home can create a sense of inadequacy and disappointment, and lead to the feeling that life is unfair. Add to all this, the information overload via the Internet does not help.
Becoming moody is common while experiencing growing pains. But teen depression is more than being moody and is a serious health issue that can interfere with their routine and scar them for life. The good news is it is treatable and a parent’s love and support can make all the difference in helping them overcome depression and enjoying their life the way they should be.
How to recognize the signs of depression in your teenager
It takes close observation, since depression need not necessarily mean sadness. It can also look like anger, irritability, and a sense of agitation.
Some of the signs of teen depression to watch out for, are:
- Issues at school: depression drains energy and causes problems with focusing. This can lead to poor attendance at school, lower grades or a listlessness in school work.
- Substance abuse: some teens may turn to drugs or alcohol assuming that it will help. Of course, this only makes things worse.
- Low self-esteem: depression can make a teenager feel inadequate, unworthy, ashamed and a failure.
- Internet overdose: too much time on the phone, causing isolation and deepening the depression.
- Behavioral changes: tendency to be reckless with driving, getting drunk, attempting dangerous stunts and so on. Some become violent and aggressive and injure themselves
- A tendency for violence: Depressed teens, especially the ones that are victims of bullying can become violent and aggressive.
Besides the above, you may also look for the following symptoms of teen depression. It is important to remember that teens with depression may not appear sad; instead, they may appear irritable, angry, or agitated. And since they are unlikely to seek help on their own, it is the responsibility of the parents, teachers or guardians to recognize the signs and steer them towards the help they need.
Here are more signs of teen depression
- Eating disorders
- Unexplained sadness
- Anger, tantrums
- Crying for no reason
- Isolating themselves from family/friends
- Disinterest in activities
- Inability to focus
- Aches and pains with no medical cause
- Thoughts of suicide/death
- Too sensitive to criticism
Now think about how long these symptoms have been obvious and whether your teenager is being different from her usual self. Of course, hormonal changes and stress are normal during these years; however, prolonged unhappiness or lethargy need immediate attention.
What causes teen depression?
While it is not exactly known what causes teen depression, a number of issues can be involved. According to Mayo Clinic, the causes for teen depression can be:
• Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that carry signals to other parts of your brain and body. When these chemicals are abnormal or impaired, the function of nerve receptors and nerve systems changes, leading to depression.
• Hormones. Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression.
• Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives — such as a parent or grandparent — also have the condition.
• Early childhood trauma. Traumatic events during childhood, such as physical or emotional abuse, or loss of a parent, may cause changes in the brain that make a person more susceptible to depression.
• Learned patterns of negative thinking. Teen depression may be linked to learning to feel helpless — rather than learning to feel capable of finding solutions for life’s challenges.
A word about suicide warning signs in teenagers with depression
Some teenagers experiencing depression can feel suicidal, especially when there is substance abuse involved. But how do you catch the signs?
Here are some pointers:
- Joking about committing suicide
- Phrases like “I am better dead” or “I wish I could disappear” or “There’s no hope” or even positive statements about death
- Writing about death
- Being reckless and uncaring about accidents
- Giving away things she cares for
- Saying goodbye as if it is the last time
- Interest in weapons, pills or other methods of suicide
It is alarming enough to find out that one’s teen is depressed, but left untreated, this can be dangerous.
As a parent, how can you help?
Start by talking to your teen. Let them know you are worried about the changes you’ve noticed. Ask them to share what they are going through—listen to their side of it—and truly listen without judgment. Avoid bombarding them with questions as it can make them withdraw further into themselves.
Instead, assure them that you are there for any support they need. Some communication tips while talking to a teen with depression:
- Listen, don’t lecture.
- Do not criticize or judge.
- Encourage them to talk.
- Be kind and persistent. It isn’t easy for them to talk.
- Be respectful and willing to listen
- Acknowledge their feelings, their sadness and pain.
- Do not trivialize the situation by saying it isn’t that bad
- Listen to your own gut – if your teen says nothing is wrong but can’t explain their depressed behavior, it is up to you to decide to get them help by talking to someone they trust.
If they find it difficult to open up to you, think about getting them to talk to a trusted adult. This may be a school teacher or a family friend or a mental health professional.
More ways in which you can help them as a parent are:
Encourage them to connect with others. Isolation makes things worse.
Find the time to talk to them every day, without distractions. Just connecting with them can make a big difference in their recovery. Also, keep them connected to others. Encourage them to hang out with friends, invite friends over. Get them involved in activities you can do together or through hobby classes that build their talents.
It may look like they are not motivated initially, but soon they will start feeling better. Encourage them to volunteer – doing things for others is proven to be a powerful antidepressant and boosts self-esteem. Help them find a cause that interests them to give them a sense of purpose. If possible, join them for a wonderful bonding experience.
Ensure they get enough physical activity.
There is proof that physical and mental health are closely related. Depression can get worse with poor eating habits, insufficient sleep and inactivity. Teens do tend to stay up late and eat junk food, while spending way too much time time in front of the screen. Set limits on screen time.
Ensure they eat nutritious balanced meals. Sugary starchy foods and junk foods can have a negative effect on mood and energy. Make their home environment supportive and help them develop healthy habits. Make sure they get enough sleep and rest.
When depression seems intense, do not hesitate to seek professional help.
While a healthy lifestyle goes a long way in helping, it may not always be enough.
Discuss treatment choices with your teen and get their inputs.
This will motivate them to cooperate. Different treatments work for different people, so if a particular strategy does not work with your teen, keep looking for the best way.
Don’t feel pressurized into seeking antidepressant medication because other treatments are expensive.
Medication comes with many risks and are only part of a larger treatment plan.
If antidepressant medication is necessary, it is important to understand that the risk of suicide is acute during the first few weeks of starting the course and this calls for constant monitoring to see how they’re responding to the medication. Get in touch with your doctor immediately if you notice the anxiety getting worse or unusual changes in behavior.
Call your doctor if you notice the following signs:
- Talk about suicide
- Suicidal gestures/attempts
- New or worse depression
- New or worse anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty sleeping
- Aggressive or violent behavior
- Acting on dangerous impulses
- Hyperactive speech/behavior
- Other unusual behavior changes
It goes without saying that your teen needs your support throughout the treatment, so make sure they know that you are there, and that you value them and care for them. Love is a game-changer in speeding up their recovery to their normal selves. Be understanding and stay involved in their treatment. And above all, be patient.
During this time, as you support your teen, make sure you also take care of yourself and others in the family. It can be easy to worry and forget about yourself. Do not hesitate to ask others for help as you need to stay positive to help your teen. Talk about your feelings and be open with your family.
If there are siblings, talk to them, explain what is going on. Don’t play the blame game—it can only add to the stress. Teen depression is caused by various factors, and unless there is abuse or neglect, no one person is responsible.
Parenting at any stage is challenging and parenting teens can be extra-sensitive.
Some tips to help your teens lower their stress levels
- When you need to discipline your teen, use positive reinforcement for good behavior rather than shame and punishment, which can affect your teen’s self esteem and make them feel inadequate.
- Try avoiding being overprotective or making your teen’s decisions for them. This will make them feel that you don’t have faith in their abilities and affect their self-confidence. Let your teen make mistakes.
- Give your teen space. It is fine if they don’t do exactly as you say.
- Try not to push your teen to follow your own dreams. And don’t relive your own youth through your teen’s experiences and activities.
- If you suspect your teen is depressed, make the time to listen to their feelings and concerns. Regardless of whether you feel their concern is real or not, understand that it can feel very real for them as they’re growing up.
- Be ready to communicate with your teen even if they are not ready to talk.
- Don’t micromanage your teen or tell them what to do. Listen and understand the issues causing the problem.
- Let your teen interact with a family member or friend they are close with and talk to them about what’s bothering them.
Should you feel that you are unable to get through to your teen or if you are worried, don’t hesitate to get help from a qualified health professional.
It is important to remember that adolescence involves massive change and this can be really confusing for teens and those who care for them. And to add to this confusion, “normal” teen behavior and the signs of mental health struggle can appear similar.
The change in sleep patterns, eating habits, being irritable, pulling away from family – all this can be a normal part of adolescence. or these can be symptoms of teen depression.
It is challenging enough for a teenager with the fierce competition these days and the pressure to keep up. Depression can make it really tough to believe that things will get better. Professional treatment, combined with family support can bring them back on track.
Allow your teen enough space when they need it. The need to be independent of family and parents is a necessary part of being a teenager. However, do stay gently curious, alert and available.
The more we are aware of what our loved ones are going through and the more we listen when something doesn’t feel quite right – the more empowered we become to respond in a timely manner, so that we can help them heal and become stronger.