Everyone knows that teenagers are moody, but when should you be concerned about your teen acting irritable or being in a depressed state? Teenagers face a lot of stress and pressures that can cause emotional distress. In addition to going through puberty and feeling uncomfortable and awkward in their bodies, this is also a time when teens start questioning their identities. They also may feel stress with school and the pressure to get into college. They can feel peer pressure to try cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol. For the first time, they may start having romantic interests which can lead to other complications in their lives.
Some moodiness in teenagers is to be expected. Keep an eye out for significant changes in your teenager’s general mood, however. Depression is a serious medical condition and treatment is important. An estimated one out of every eight teenagers struggle with actual depression beyond just hormonal moodiness. When should you seek help for your teenager? If your teenager has the following symptoms for more than two weeks, you should contact your healthcare provider.
Symptoms of Teen Depression
- Feelings of severe sadness or melancholy
- Crying for no reason
- Feeling empty or apathetic
- Excessive self-criticism
- Low self-esteem
- Thoughts of suicide and death
- Feeling worthless
- Pessimistic outlook on life and the future
- Lack of energy
- Risky behavior, including alcohol and drug use
- Self-harm, such as cutting
- Angry outbursts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Acting out
- Changes in appetite
- Sleeping too much or insomnia
- Weight changes
- Isolating oneself socially
- Not taking part in activities the teen used to enjoy
- Poor performance in school
- Complaining of unexplained pain
It’s important to note that depression in teenagers does not always look the same as depression in adults. Certain symptoms, in particular, are seen more in teen depression instead of adult depression. While depressed adults tend to withdraw and isolate themselves completely, teenagers may withdraw partially but usually keep up a few friendships. You may note, however, that they suddenly change their social group. Depressed teenagers are especially sensitive to criticism and feelings of rejection. They may be overly concerned with the idea of failure. While depressed adults may seem particularly sad, adolescents with depression are prone to lash out in anger, have a hostile nature, and be particularly irritable. Finally, depressed teenagers are more likely than adults to complain of stomachaches and other unexplained aches and pains when depressed.
What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Teen Is Depressed?
Your teen may not want to talk to you at first about depression. Nevertheless, you should persist, although gently. Start by telling them that you’re concerned. It may be difficult for them to open up. Once they start talking, let them keep talking. They may shut down if you interrupt them or seem judgmental. Don’t minimize your teenager’s feelings. Don’t tell them that they should be grateful and smile, or that they have nothing to be sad about. You want to come across as understanding. Don’t try to “fix” your teen yourself. Instead, take your teen to a doctor or get a referral to a licensed therapist. There are medications that can help your teen, and a therapist can help him or her process what may be a difficult and confusing time in his or her life. If your teen insists that nothing is wrong but you feel in your gut that something is off, reach out to a doctor or therapist yourself for advice on how to handle the situation.
Other things that you can do to help your depressed teen is to make sure that he or she knows they can always talk to you. It’s even better if you can set aside time each day without phones or distractions to check in with each other. Make sure your teen doesn’t isolate him or herself. Encourage your teen to volunteer, join a club, or take up a team sporting activity. Limit screen time and social media use since this can increase depressive symptoms and can be used as an escape mechanism for your teenager.