Is Your Teen Depressed?: Warning Signs of Depression and How You Can Help.
Being a parent is difficult and knowing all the answers is even harder. When we are very young we look to our parents to help us with everyday problems. We trust that they will solve our problems and that we will not have to worry. Sadly as we get older and become adolescents, we may loose some of that trust or relationships we once had with our parents or caregivers. It becomes so easy for us to relinquish some of that responsibility as parents by allowing our teens or adolescents to be their own person. We watch them grow and oftentimes we watch them grow apart. They become so busy with their academics, their social lives, and many times we find their eyes glued to their electronics. They begin to withdraw from us, and many times from others. They deal with issues of self-esteem, acceptance, and may find themselves having to deal with new obstacles they may not be ready for. Some of these behaviors are a common transition into adulthood, but some of these behaviors and behavioral responses can have alarming consequences for their mental health. Depression and depressive thoughts are sadly more common than we think or than we talk about. We hear in the news about children as young as nine years old committing suicide in their own homes and it just does not sound possible, but if your teen/adolescent or child were depressed would you know? Would you recognize early signs? Here I will present some very common signs of depression. They are not meant to diagnose, but simply to educate.
- It is estimated that about 8% of adolescents suffer from depression. Other sources estimate that these percentages are even higher (14% according to Hamrin & Magorno, 2010).
- Depression and depressive symptoms can occur as early as childhood.
- According to Hamrin & Magorno (2010) these percentages are around 3% for children. –look to further sources for current data.
- Other mental health problems such as anxiety are also common in early adolescence.
- Women are reportedly at higher risk for depression, but depression is NOT a gender-based disorder, meaning it can happen to both.
Some Possible Triggers
Mental health disorders and such as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and anxiety have been correlated to (related to) environmental factors as well as genetic factors.
- Both genetic and environmental factors can increase the risk for MDD. A history of depression in the family may be a strong indicator of a higher risk for depression in adolescents whom are part of such family.
Some environmental factors include:
- Experience in violent settings either at home or in their immediate environment.
Stressful life situations and events can also trigger the onset or start of depression. Some of these life stressors can include:
- Divorce in the family
- Death or loss in the family
- Hormonal changes in teens and adolescents.
- Social relationships (bullying, harassment, romantic relationships).
SO HOW CAN WE RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS?
Signs of Depression
*Note: the following list of symptoms must be present for a minimum of two weeks for some physicians to consider it pervasive or diagnosable. These symptoms typically affect the overall quality of life of the adolescent, and the adolescent will not always self-report these symptoms. They do not need to display all of the following symptoms to qualify for diagnosis, or for you to seek help.
- Weight changes such as extreme loss or gain. (Changes in appetite)
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Hard time concentrating on everyday tasks (more than typical for that person)
- Irritability or displaying a hard time managing emotions.
- Trouble sleeping or staying asleep (insomnia).
- Excessive sleeping such as sleeping a lot during the day or at odd periods of the day (hypersomnia).
- Feelings of worthlessness or expressing negative thoughts about themselves.
- Feelings of excessive guilt. Ex: they may blame the events in their current lives as being their fault. They may take responsibility for events that were out of their control, such as a divorce or a loss.
- Thoughts of death including suicidal thoughts or suicidal attempts
- Self-harm such as cutting or burning themselves, or engaging in risky behavior that can lead to harm.
- A visible decrease in performance such as a drop in grades or athletic performance.
- Withdrawing from social interactions. Wanting to be alone or isolating themselves.
Physical and Somatoform (not medical in nature) Signs of Depression
- Changes in hygiene such as not taking showers, brushing teeth or combing hair.
- Pale or tired appearance
- They may physically look sad or irritable.
- Reoccurring headaches that are not explained by other pre-existing medical conditions
- Stomachaches not explained by other conditions
- Fatigue that interrupts or affects daily activities.
Cognitive Risk Factors and Warning Signs
- High levels of anxiety or stress
- Low self-esteem or low self-worth
- Poor school performance
- High self-criticism
- Having a distorted view of themselves and their lives such as speaking of themselves very inaccurately. Ex: I am fat when they are thin.
Depression Does Not Exist Alone
Adolescents suffering from Major Depressive Disorder or MDD are also at a higher risk for developing other problems or negative behaviors such as:
- Substance abuse
- Conduct disorders
- Personality disorders
- Interpersonal conflict
- Negative social relationships
- Poor achievement in different areas such as educational or occupational
How to Help Your Teen/Adolescent
- Do not give up on them or ignore their symptoms. It is common for adolescents who report symptoms of depression to later change their thoughts about depression; leading parents to believe that their child is no longer depressed, or was never depressed.
- This is due to the fact that when the symptoms of depression are reduced (ex: when the person has a better day or feels happier than usual) they will look back at their depressive symptoms and believe that they were not as bad as they once reported.
- This may also be very common after initial interventions. For example, the adolescent may have reported that their symptoms such as suicidal thoughts or pessimism were higher before treatment, and much lower after, but what they may actually be reporting is a change in the value of importance they put on each symptom. “It was not such a big deal.” “ I overreacted.”
- Follow through. Your teen may fear that you will suffer because of their depression and they may try even harder to hide their symptoms even after they have admitted to feeling them. You know them well enough to understand that this is another warning sign.
- Visit your primary care physician to get your teen evaluated. If you have even the slightest believe that your teen is depressed or acting “out of character,” do not hesitate to seek professional help.
- Keep educating yourself and your teen. Mental health awareness is so important, and learning to recognize symptoms can save a life.
- Be your teen’s advocate. Mental health disorders are often accompanied by a very negative stigma, but if you become educated you will learn how common these disorders are and how to help those around you.
- Take care of yourself too. Do not forget in this journey that you are important too. Having a healthy mind can help us better understand and help those around us.
*Note MDD and Bipolar depression may share some symptoms, but they do not include all of the same symptoms. For this reasons please visit your primary care provider or physician for proper treatment and diagnosis.
I truly believe that proper education and awareness can help diminish the cases of adolescents and teens who suffer depressive symptoms and whose lives are cut short. So please help spread awareness of mental health.
If you would like for me to do another post of bipolar depression please let me know. As always thank you for reading. Read below for more information on depression and do not forget to always check that the sources are credible.
Hamrin, V., & Magorno, M. (2010). Assessment of Adolescents for Depression In the Pediatric Primary Care Setting. Pediatric Nursing, 36(2), 103-111.
Slopen, N., Fitzmaurice, G., Williams, D., & Gilman, S. (2012). Common patterns of violence experiences and depression and anxiety among adolescents. Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, 47(10), 1591-1605. doi:10.1007/s00127-011-0466-5
Wu, P. (2016). Response Shifts in Depression Intervention for Early Adolescents. Journal Of Clinical Psychology,72(7), 663-675. doi:10.1002/jclp.22291