Parenting can be challenging even in the best of times. When your child seems to be unhappy, irritable, or otherwise out-of-sorts, however, your job as a parent can sometimes seem impossible. If you’re like many parents, you may assume that these mood changes or alterations in demeanor are simply a “phase” or the result of hormones run amok. And if someone suggested that your child might be suffering from depression, you might be tempted to dismiss the idea out of hand. After all, you don’t really find clinical depression in teenagers – right?
Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case.
Teenagers with Clinical Depression
According to researchers, clinical depression in teenagers is more common than most adults realize. Estimates suggest that somewhere between twelve and twenty percent of all teens experience some type of depression at some point in their youth. And no, we’re not just talking about the garden variety mood swings that all teens experience – or even those temporary periods of sadness where teens just feel unhappy.
Adolescence really is one of the most challenging periods in any person’s life. Teenagers often struggle to cope with new pressures that emerge in their teen years. Changes in their body, new social challenges, academic pressures, and expectations at home can all contribute to a level of stress and confusion that many teens are ill-equipped to manage. This can result in changes in attitude and behavior that far too many parents mistake for normal teen angst. Unfortunately, that can cause those parents to ignore their child’s depression or address it in a counterproductive way.
Recognizing the Signs of Clinical Depression in Teenagers
For parents, one of the most difficult challenges involves early detection of depression in their teens. It is vital that parents be vigilant for signs of clinical depression, since early identification of the problem can lead to early intervention and assistance for the child. Clinical depression signs include changes in the teenager’s emotional state and behavior.
There are a whole host of emotional changes that could indicate that your teenager is suffering from some level of clinical depression. You should watch for any of the following signs. Most teens who are experiencing depression will exhibit several of these changes.
• Severe sadness. Depressed teens often endure prolonged periods of sadness, and are often unable to articulate the reasons why they’re so unhappy.
• If your teenager seems especially irritable or annoyed, there’s a chance that depression may be the culprit.
• Lack of self-esteem. While many children suffer from self-esteem issues, depressed individuals often display that lack of confidence in greater measure.
• Withdrawal from family and friends.
• Cognitive difficulties.
• Problems controlling his or her temper.
• Excessive self-criticism.
• Demonstrated need for constant validation and reassurance.
• Thoughts of death, including suicide.
As noted, these signs can often be confused for ordinary teenage angst. However, when your teen exhibits some combination of these emotional signs, it’s important to take notice.
Changes in your teen’s behavior are sometimes easier to detect, since emotional cues can sometimes be difficult to interpret. You should always be vigilant for sudden changes in your child’s behavior patterns, since those changes could be a sign of hidden problems that need to be addressed. Teenagers suffering from clinical depression often exhibit behavioral changes of the type listed below.
• Lack of energy. Yes, many teenagers seem listless. Depressed teens take that listlessness to a whole new level, though.
• Drug or alcohol use. Many teens turn to substance abuse as an escape from their depression.
• Recurring complaints about pain, soreness, or other bodily discomfort.
• Neglect of basic hygiene and grooming. If your teen has stopped caring about how he or she smells or looks, then chances are that there’s something seriously wrong.
• Self-mutilation. Teens who are depressed may resort to cutting themselves, burning their skin, or other forms of self-harm.
• Impeded speech or thoughts. Brain fog can be a real thing for teenagers, just as it is for adults who suffer from depression. If your teen suddenly seems to have problems expressing herself, or struggles to make decisions or think critically, there may be a serious problem.
• Social isolation. Has your child abandoned his friends? Does he isolate himself from friends and family? If so, that could be a sign of depression.
• Poor grades or misconduct at school. Many depressed teens struggle to maintain their grades. Many others simply act out at school. Still others skip school altogether.
• Weight loss, weight gain, or sudden changes in appetite.
• Risk-taking behavior. If your child is suddenly taking risks that he or she would never have considered in the past, depression may in play.
But Aren’t These Signs Normal for Many Teens?
Naturally, you may look at these signs and think, “well, that’s just teens being teens. They all go through these phases.” In a certain sense, you’d be correct to avoid panic. After all, the teen years are often accompanied by marked changes in mood and behavior. At the same time, however, it is important to recognize that these can also be indications that your teenager is experiencing depression – and that’s something that must be taken seriously.
So, how can you know when these signs are something other than ordinary teen angst? The reality is that you cannot know for sure – at least not without professional assistance from a doctor. There are, however, things that you can do to help determine whether further intervention might be needed.
1. Monitor your teen to see whether these signs are ongoing, or were just present for a brief time. Depression symptoms tend to endure for weeks, months, or years.
2. Talk to your teenager. Yes, that can be uncomfortable for many parents and teens, but you need to gauge whether your child can handle all those new emotions.
3. Redouble your efforts to identify any disruptions in your child’s life. If these emotions and behaviors are interfering with your teen’s normal life, then you need to intervene.
4. Don’t ignore the problem. Clinical depression needs to be treated, and the quicker that treatment occurs, the sooner your child can once again enjoy those teen years.
If you suspect that your teenager is depressed, consult with a doctor. A professional diagnosis can lead to effective treatment, and get your child back on the path to sound emotional and physical wellbeing. Clinical depression in teenagers is far too common to ignore, so parents need to be alert to its presence and act when necessary. Your child’s physical, mental, and emotional health may depend entirely upon how you choose to address this issue.