by Ashleigh Beason, LPCA
The topic of depression is on the rise especially in teenagers today. In fact, one in five will suffer from depression in their teenage years. Teenagers face so much in their day to day life, including a wide range of pressures from the changes brought on by puberty to questions about who they are and where they belong. With all of this uncertainty, it can be difficult to tell if teens are going through depression or normal teenage growing pains. Teenage depression goes beyond normal teenage moodiness.
Some possible indications of depression are:
1) Problems at school. Depression causes low energy and concentration at school which could affect a drop in grades, low attendance, and frustration with schoolwork.
2) Wanting to run away. Often teens threaten to run away and this can be a cry for help.
3) Drug and alcohol abuse. Teens utilize alcohol and drugs to self-medicate.
4) Low self-esteem. Depression can trigger and intensify feelings of ugliness, shame, failure, and unworthiness.
5) Smart phone addiction. Utilizing phones to escape their problems also increases teenage isolation.
6) Changes in eating habits. This could be binging or restricting and has potential to lead to eating disorders.
7) Self-harm. This might include cutting, burning or excessive piercing or tattooing which can be a way to cope with their emotional pain.
8) Thoughts of death and suicide.
Depression looks different in teens than in adults. In adults the prominent mood in depression is sadness; however, with teens it is usually irritability. Depression in teens can cause unexplained aches and pains in which teens might complain of headaches and stomach aches. Teens are extremely sensitive to criticism and are plagued by feelings of worthlessness. While adults might completely isolate from others, teens usually will withdraw from some but not all friends. Usually teens will socialize less, will pull away from parents, and will begin hanging out with a different crowd.
Although not all teens that have some of these symptoms will have depression, it is important to know how to handle them if they do. As parents it is important to bring up your concerns in a loving way creating open dialogue.
Here are some tips that may help:
1) Acknowledge their feelings. It is important not to try and talk them out of their irritability and sadness but instead to just acknowledge it. It is also important to focus on listening, not lecturing.
2) Trust your gut. As a parent you know your child better than anyone else, so if you think it’s just hormones and stress go with it, but if you think it could be depression seek professional help.
3) Help your teen reconnect. Creating more face time as parents could be helpful,but also do what you can to encourage them to combat social isolation. Get your teen involved in activities (while teens might lack interest at first, they might take time to feel better and regain enthusiasm). Activities could include clubs and sports or it could be volunteering. Sometimes doing something for others is the medicine they need.
4) Promote exercise. It has been proven that exercise decreases symptoms of depression. It is ideal for your teen to get an hour a day, but encourage them to do something they enjoy. They could be walking a dog, dancing, going for a hike, riding bikes, or anything that gets them moving.
5) Decrease unhealthy teen habits. Teens are known for their unhealthy habits including staying up late, eating junk food, and spending hours on phones so it is important to limit screen time, provide balanced meals, and encourage sleep (9-10 hours).
6) Seek professional help. If you are unsure if you should seek professional help,consider how long the symptoms have been going on and how severe they are. Hormones and stress do have an effect on the angst of teens but if it is continuous unhappiness, lethargy, or irritability it might be time to seek help.
Helping a depressed teen is not easy, and you may be (and probably will be) met with resistance. Dealing with the resistant teen is difficult and draining and can actually be exhausting. So, while you are working hard to help your teen, don’t forget to look after your own health as well.