Changes in mood and unpredictable behavior are a normal part of adolescence. Indeed, parents are often known to commiserate with each other about raising teens.
Many parents compare the behavior of their teens to their behavior as toddlers. Angry outbursts, arguments, and struggles for control are all part of growing into independence.
But sometimes, these behavioral issues are more than just developmental steps toward adulthood. Unfortunately, teen depression and suicide have grown to high rates in our culture. As a parent, it’s vital to be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression in your adolescent.
Variations in your teen’s typical behavior and lifestyle are often first signs of depression. Despite the moodiness attributed to teens, sometimes mood changes become truly detrimental and long-lasting.
Symptoms of adolescent depression can be similar to those in adults. Look for changes in their energy level, appetite, or socialization patterns, such as:
- Has sadness become persistent and intractable? Do they cry much more frequently or quickly?
- Are they much more tired than usual? Do they struggle to get out of bed (and not just because they’re a teen)? Or, are they experiencing insomnia?
- Are they eating less or more than typical, with corresponding weight loss or gain?
- Have they withdrawn from their friends and no longer want to be involved with their social groups?
- Is it hard for your teen to complete everyday tasks such as attending to personal hygiene and helping with household chores?
- Has their temper gotten out of control, to the point that they lash out at even the smallest things?
Inability to Focus
Depression can also manifest itself as an inability to concentrate and focus on tasks that were not a problem before. Teens can become very restless and easily distracted when depressed. They might not be able to sit still when it’s time to do homework.
Furthermore, making decisions and knowing where to start on a project can be overwhelming. These issues can lead to missed assignments, poor test grades, and even acting up in class.
How does your teen handle stress? If you find that your teen’s reactions to stress have become much stronger than they were in the past, pay attention for more clues.
Are they frequently overwhelmed to the point of tears or paralyzed by indecision because of numerous responsibilities? These, of course, include schoolwork, extracurricular involvement, perhaps part-time work, and other community connections. Teens face a great deal of pressure, and they aren’t always prepared to handle it.
Take the time to review your teen’s commitments and responsibilities with them. Try to find a way to help them learn stress management skills. Reducing obligations for a time might also be appropriate.
If your teen shows any signs of being suicidal, seeking immediate help is crucial. You can watch for unusual reckless behavior that could lead to significant harm, obsession with death, or giving away their valued items. Sometimes, a teen’s mood improves after they’ve made the decisions to commit suicide. Remove items from your home that they could use in a suicide attempt.
While many of these signs and symptoms of adolescent depression mirror those in adults, sometimes the signs are more subtle. It can also be hard to separate the signs of depression from those of typical teen behavior.
How to Help Your Teen
A therapist can help you and your teen evaluate the symptoms and create a plan to manage and overcome depression if it is there.
It’s essential to remember that depression is not anyone’s fault. It is better to seek help earlier rather than later. The sooner treatment begins, the sooner you can address symptoms and prevent depression from growing worse.
Therapists can also direct you to other specialists if they think the signs may indicate a learning disability or have physical roots, such as thyroid issues.