Seeing it has just been the school holidays I thought I would write about depression in teenagers and how to spot the signs. Depression is rapidly rising and in the fastest rate amongst teenagers compared to 20 years ago when it was almost unknown.
Teenagers face a host of pressures, from the changes of puberty to questions about who they are and where they fit in. With all this turmoil and uncertainty, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between depression and normal teenage growing pains. But teen depression goes beyond moodiness. It’s a serious health problem that impacts every aspect of a teen’s life. Fortunately, it’s treatable and parents can help. Your support can go a long way toward getting your teenager back on track.
It is thought that the rise in depression amongst teens and in particular adolescence is due to the changes in our society, the pressure to conform with peers is intolerably strong now with Facebook, snapchat and instagram which is with each teen morning noon and night. The pressure of social media, magazines and television to look a certain way, to have the right amount of friends, the right clothes, or to be leading the lifestyle that is viewed as desirable adds more pressure. And then mix this with the pressure of school and college, the uncertainty of the future with careers, money and housing and you have a boiling pot of emotions like stress, anxiety, low confidence and feelings of helplessness.
A certain amount of moodiness and acting out is par for the course with teens. But persistent changes in personality, mood, or behaviour are red flags of a deeper problem. If you’re unsure if your child is depressed or just “being a teenager,” consider how long the symptoms have been going on, how severe they are, and how different your child is acting from his or her usual self. Hormones and stress can explain the occasional bout of teenage angst—but not continuous and unrelenting unhappiness lethargy, or irritability.
Some of the main signs of depression in teens to look out for –
Sadness or hopelessness
Irritability, anger, or hostility
Tearfulness or frequent crying
Withdrawal from friends and family
Loss of interest in activities
Poor school performance
Changes in eating and sleeping habits
Restlessness and agitation
Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
Fatigue or lack of energy
Unexplained aches and pains
Thoughts of death or suicide
Don’t ignore the problem
Depression is very damaging when left untreated, so don’t wait and hope that your teens symptoms will go away. If you suspect that your child is depressed, bring up your concerns in a loving, non-judgmental way. Even if you’re unsure that depression is the issue, the difficult behaviours and emotions you’re seeing are signs of a problem that should be addressed.
Listen to your teen.
Open up a dialogue by letting your teen know what specific signs of depression you’ve noticed and why they worry you. Then ask your child to share what he or she is going through—and be ready and willing to truly listen. Hold back from asking a lot of questions (teenagers don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.
Encourage social connection
Depressed teens tend to withdraw from their friends and the activities they used to enjoy. But isolation only makes depression worse, so do what you can to help your teen reconnect.
Make physical health a priority
Physical and mental health are inextricably connected. Depression is exacerbated by inactivity, inadequate sleep, and poor nutrition. Unfortunately, teens are known for their unhealthy habits: staying up late, eating junk food, and spending hours on their phones and devices. But as a parent, you can combat these behaviours by establishing a healthy, supportive home environment.
If you as a parent are feeling overwhelmed by the worry and responsibility of helping your teen or your teen is not responding to the help and support that you are giving them then this is the time to explore with them the options of help outside of the home. This can be visiting your GP with your teen and them being referred to talking therapies or CAMHS or searching out a qualified therapist. Find someone who your teen can trust and who they are willing to work with. Be patient and supportive as they overcome their problems.