Teenagers face a range of pressures as they transition into puberty. With so much uncertainty and turmoil, it can be difficult to differentiate between everyday teenage growing pains and depression. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, major depression is a widespread mental health disorder affecting teenagers in the United States.
There is more to teen depression than mere moodiness. It is a dangerous condition that has a negative impact on an individual’s life. The good news is that it is treatable, or at the very least manageable. Between the support of healthcare professionals and parents, teenagers are capable of living depression free lives.
Symptoms of Depression in Teenagers
An adult suffering from depression will seek out assistance on their own, but a teenager will rely on parents, teachers, and caregivers to recognize their pain and get them the help they are looking for. Therefore, if you know an adolescent, it is important to understand what depression in a teenager looks like and the steps you should take if you spot any warning signs.
There are general stereotypes associated with depression. While many of them such as low mood, irritability and lack of motivation are true, these are not the only manifestations of depression in teenagers. Symptoms are similar to those in adults – with additional symptoms like cutting, burning, and self-harm. Here are the main symptoms of depression in teenagers:
- Hopelessness or sadness
- Hostility, anger or irritability
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Underachieving in school
- A lack of interest in activities
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Changes in eating habits
- Agitation and restlessness
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Lack of motivation and enthusiasm
- Lack of energy or fatigue
- Inability to concentrate
- Unexplained pain
- Thoughts of suicide and death
Teenage depression can also cause behavioral problems such as:
- Playing truant from school
- Running away
- Drug use/alcohol use
- Risky sexual behaviour
Self-harm is one of the most common warning signs of depression in teenagers. Generally, the aim is not to end one’s life; but it is a cry for help and should be taken seriously.
Is it Growing Pains or Teenage Depression?
A certain amount of acting up and moodiness is normal for a growing teenager. However, persistent changes in behavior, personality, and mood are signs of a deeper issue. If you are uncertain as to whether a teen is just acting out or whether they are depressed, examine how extreme the difference in their behavior is and how long it has been going on. Stress and hormones can explain the occasional teenage outburst; however, continuous bouts of irritability, lethargy, and unhappiness are cause for concern.
Depression That Leads to Suicide
It is a well-known fact that severe depression can lead to suicide. Depressed teens will often think about, discuss and attempt suicide for attention. Unfortunately, a high number of attempted suicides in teenagers are successful. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4,600 young people between the ages of 10 and 24 take their lives each year. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth. If you think a teenager is at immediate risk of taking their life follow these steps:
- Call 911 or the emergency number in your country.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-TALK.
- To locate a suicide helpline outside of America visit www.suicide.org
- Don’t leave the individual alone, stay with them until help arrives.
- Remove anything that could cause harm such as medication, knives or guns.
Causes of Depression in Teenagers
There is always going to be a trigger that will lead to depression in teenagers. These include, but are not limited to the following:
- A family crisis such as divorce or death
- Sexual, physical or emotional abuse
- Witnessing domestic violence in the home
- Sexual identity
- A lack of emotional or social support
- Problems with social adjustment
Diagnosing Teenage Depression
It can be difficult to diagnose depression in teenagers. It is essential that an adolescent is thoroughly assessed by a qualified mental health professional who has been trained to deal with teenagers. An evaluation should take into consideration the complete developmental history of the teenager. It should also include behavior at home, family history, and school performance, as well as a physical examination.
How to Communicate With a Depressed Teenager
When you are not the person suffering from depression, it’s hard to understand someone who does. Their reasons may appear trivial or that they are over exaggerating the situation. However, what you have to remember is that you are not the person who is dealing with depression. Here is some advice on how to communicate with a depressed teenager.
- Focus on Listening: When communicating with a depressed teenager, there is always going to be an urge to lecture them. This is not a good idea, as it will cause the individual to shut down and stop communicating. You will do better if you just let the teen know you are there for them and allow them to talk. This way you gain more of an understanding about what they are going through.
- Be Gentle, But Persevere: A teenager will often shut you out when you first try and talk to them about depression. It can be very difficult for them to open up, even if they want to because teenagers often find it hard to express their feelings. Don’t try and pressure them into speaking, but do encourage them to speak if they feel inclined to.
Teenagers do not have to deal with depression alone. Help is available in the form of therapy or medication. When the symptoms are recognized, it is essential that you get your teenager the help they need from a licensed professional. If you are a parent or a caregiver, take the time to educate yourself about depression in teenagers, so that you can actively engage in helping the individual overcome it.