Understanding Depression In Teenagers
Depression can be a serious mental health problem for teenagers, causing persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities. Depression can impact how your teenager thinks, behaves, and feels. This means that depression can impact a teenager cognitively (e.g. inattention, slower processing speed), emotionally (e.g. easily overwhelmed by difficult emotional states), and physically (e.g. headaches, digestive issues, sleep disturbance).
Teenagers are in a very transient stage of life, which is expected at times to feel stressful and lead to ups and downs. However, for some teens the lows are more than temporary feeling states, they can be symptoms of depression. It is important to remember that teenage depression is not due to a weakness, something broken in the teenager, or something that they can overcome with motivation and willpower.
Depression can be a serious mental health condition requiring treatment services such as medication and counseling. Talking with your teen is essential to help determine if they are struggling with the common stressors of adolescence or if they are frequently overwhelmed by life’s stressors and their thoughts and feelings.
Symptoms of depression can vary between different people and different ages. Some common emotional changes to be alert for include feelings of sadness; crying spells for no apparent reason; feeling easily frustrated, irritable, and angry even over small matters; feeling hopeless; loss of interest and pleasure in activities previously enjoyed; withdrawal from peers and increased social problems; low self-esteem; feelings of worthlessness or guilt; difficult concentrating and making decisions; and frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
You should also monitor your teen for changes in behavior such as: tiredness and lack of energy; insomnia or excessive sleeping; changes in appetite and weight loss or gain; agitation or restlessness; slowed thinking and movements; increased unexplained physical complaints like body aches and headaches, social isolation, decreased school performance, less attention to appearance and personal hygiene, angry outbursts, risk-taking or acting-out behaviors, self-harm, and making a suicide plan.
If depression signs and symptoms continue and are interfering with your teens daily life it can be helpful to seek intervention and support services. Often your teen’s pediatrician or general practitioner is a good starting point to determine if your teen is struggling with depression and what types of interventions would be most useful. Depression symptoms often do not improve on their own and can get worse or lead to additional problems if not treated.
Depression in teenagers is particularly concerning since they may be at risk of suicide without severe signs and symptoms apparent to others. More detailed information on teenage depression diagnosis and treatment can be found on the NAMI (www.nami.org) and Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org) websites.