Teens and Recognizing Depression

Teens and Recognizing Depression

It can be hard to differentiate between teenage moodiness and actual depression

Psychology Today asserts that the teenage years are a time of social, emotional and biochemical changes, because kids enter complicated social webs at school and begin to assert their independence from their parents. Some teens even distance themselves from their families in unpleasant ways—they can be grouchy and withdrawn, they seem to sleep all weekend (except to go out at night) and they are stubborn and unresponsive to even simple requests. However, take those ‘normal’ hallmarks of adolescence and look a bit closer: you may find many of the symptoms of depression—withdrawal, a sullen demeanor and irrational behavior. How can parents distinguish normal adolescence from the signs of depression?

James McCracken of the University of California’s Los Angeles Neuropsychiatric Institute lists several behaviors that parents can take as signs for depression in their teenagers: a drop in academic performance; a change in activity, such as losing interest in a favorite sport; big changes in friendships or socializing; and difficulty with the family that goes beyond a ‘bad day’ now and then. McCracken says that all of these issues can happen to normal adolescents, but a sign of trouble is a change in many of these areas at the same time over a prolonged period.

Despite how difficult it is to distinguish between teenage moodiness and depression, it is a necessary task, as a new study offered by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. states that treating teenagers for depression can reduce the odds that they will develop a drug use disorder. The five-year study included 192 teenagers across the country who were treated for depression for 12 weeks. The teens had no preexisting problems with alcohol or drug abuse and had major depression before treatment began. The researchers found that, among the participants whose depression was successfully treated, 10 percent of them later experienced a substance use disorder. On the other hand, of those whose depression was not treated successfully, 25 percent of them found themselves ‘out of control’ with drink or drugs. Furthermore, researcher John Curry of Duke University says that the aforementioned teens who avoided drug abuse may have done so because they learned to regulate their moods with medication or skills learned in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. They probably also received support and education from the other study participants.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that one in five teenagers experiencing depression, and your teen may be one of the unlucky ones. Mood swings are one thing, but depression is a much more serious matter—it may even be taking over your loved one’s life. Check out all of the following warning signs, as provided by NIH.

Situational Risks for Teen Depression

Teens are considered to be more at risk for depression if any of the following circumstances exist:

  • Their families have a history of mood disorders
  • Experience a stressful life event, such as the death of a significant family member or close friend, parents getting a divorce, getting bullied by others, a break up with a significant other or failing in school
  • Low self-esteem and being critical of themselves
  • Girls are twice as likely as boys to have depression
  • Trouble socializing
  • Learning disabilities
  • Chronic/limiting illness
  • Family problems or problems with the parents

If your teenager has any of these issues, then her risk of depression is higher than average.

Know the Symptoms of Depression

If your teen is, in fact, depressed, then he may exude any of the following issues:

  • Frequent irritability with sudden bursts of anger
  • More sensitive to criticism
  • Complaints of headaches, stomach aches or other physical problems; a common need to go to the nurse’s office at school
  • Withdrawal from other people, particularly parents or friends
  • Not enjoying activities he usually likes
  • Feeling tired much of the day
  • Sadness most of the time

If these symptoms last for more than two weeks, then seek professional help. Also, other signs of depression are any changes of the following changes in your teen’s daily routine:

  • Sleeping difficulty or sleeping more than normal
  • A change in eating habits, such as not being hungry or eating significantly more than usual
  • A hard time concentrating
  • Finding it difficult to make decisions

The following changes in your teen’s behavior may also signal depression:

  • A drop in school grades, attendance or not doing homework
  • High-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving, unsafe sex or shoplifting
  • Pulling away from family and friends and spending more time alone
  • Drinking or using drugs

Teens with depression may also have the following issues:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders (bulimia or anorexia)

Lastly, be alert to the following signs that your teen may be contemplating suicide:

  • Giving away her possessions to others
  • Saying goodbye, directly or indirectly, to family and friends
  • Talking and/or writing about dying or committing suicide
  • Having a personality change
  • Taking unusually big risks
  • Withdrawing and wanting to be alone

As mentioned above, seek help if you recognize any of these problems in your teenage child.

Identify Depression in Teenagers Early

Most teenagers feel ‘down’ at times, but positive support and good coping skills help teens through such problems. Talk with your teens often and ask them to share their feelings candidly with you. Talking about depression itself will not make the situation worse nor depression more likely; if anything, discussion may encourage your teen to seek help sooner if such dark feelings persist. Additionally, treating depression early on may help teens feel better sooner, and it may prevent or delay future episodes. Also, working through those feelings at the onset may help keep alcohol or drug addiction at bay.

In other words, find out for yourself why 11 federally funded research studies support our claim as a superior treatment approach, whether that be outpatient, inpatient or short/long-term residential care. Our admissions coordinators are ready 24 hours a day at a toll-free helpline to serve you—they can give you helpful information and respond to your questions. Is today the day you want professional, proven-effective support to head in a new direction?