Is your teen experiencing natural growing pains or are those warning signs of teenage depression? It’s not always easy for parents to recognize the difference. If you’re feeling concerned about your teens moods or behavior, here are some key ways you can tell if your child needs help.
Is Your Teen Depressed?
We were all teenagers once. Even if it’s been decades, most of us remember how challenging the years between childhood and adulthood can be. Aside from the obvious hormonal changes, this is also a time when teens are learning more about who they are and where their place is in the world. This can include tough decisions about college and career paths, along with peer drama and other stressors that we may not be aware of as parents.
Teen depression is fairly common, but it’s more than acting out or the occasional melancholy mood. Depression is a mental health issue that can be treated with therapy as well as medication, but teens often don’t receive the professional treatment they need, likely because caregivers don’t recognize the seriousness of the situation.
Adults have the option to seek help on their own terms, but teens are reliant on caregivers to act on their behalf. Teenage depression doesn’t always present as sadness, though. Sometimes rebellious or unhealthy behaviors can also be the result of a deeper depression.
Signs of Teenage Depression
The following are some key indicators that your teen may be struggling with more than just growing pains:
- Anger, restlessness, and irritability
- Withdrawal from friends and family, or activities
- Prolonged feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Problems at school, such as poor attendance, difficulty concentrating, conflict, or dropping grades
- Frequent crying
- Poor self-image, low self-esteem, or self-blame
- Fatigue, lack of enthusiasm or motivation
- Drug or alcohol abuse can be a coping mechanism in an attempt to self-medicate
- New changes to appetite that result in weight loss or weight gain
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Engaging in high-risk behaviors, like binge drinking, shoplifting, or reckless driving
- Feelings of guilt or unworthiness
- Acts of self-harm, such as cutting, burning, or excessive body modification, like tattoos and piercings
- Excessive use of tech devices, like smartphones or the Internet, leading to isolation
- Running away from home
- Irritability, even over small things
- Medically unexplained aches or pains
- A grim outlook on the future
- Social isolation
- Outbursts of frustration or anger
- A lack of attention to personal hygiene or appearance
- A loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
- Suicidal thoughts or ideation, as well as making a plan to act
What Causes Depression?
All children go through periods of transition and challenging stages of growth and development, but the items on this list raise concerns about teenage depression that should be taken seriously by caregivers. Fortunately, understanding the signs means you can take steps to help your child begin to feel better. It’s also important to note that depression isn’t something that adults or teens can simply overcome with enough willpower. This is because depression isn’t a weakness or a character flaw. So, what causes depression?
While there’s no definitive answer to this question, more than one issue may be at the root of the cause, including:
- Hormonal Fluctuations. Disruptions or changes to your teens hormones may be one aspect of what’s triggering depression.
- Childhood trauma. Traumatic childhood events, like the loss of a parent, or even an ordinary divorce, can make teenage depression more likely.
- Brain chemistry. Chemicals in the brain are responsible for carrying signals to other parts of the brain, but when these chemicals are out of balance, it can cause depression.
- Genetics and Inherited Traits. As with other health concerns, if our biological relatives suffered from depression, we’re also more likely to experience depression.
Untreated teenage depression can lead to lasting damage. For example, teens who don’t get the help they need may fail classes, or even drop out of school. These kinds of academic problems have an overall impact on their future career options and ability to financially support themselves in adulthood. This can also further compound issues of self-worth.
Both adults and teens may turn to alcohol or drug use in an effort to mitigate their suffering. This can result in a secondary issue of alcoholism or addiction, as well as other concerns, such as driving under the influence.
Difficulties with family bonds or developing and maintaining healthy relationships into adulthood can also be a side effect of teenage depression that can have a great impact on well-being. Healthy relationships are a key aspect to creating meaning in our lives. Without these connections, a deep sense of isolation can permeate our experiences.
Untreated teenage depression can also result in behavioral issues that the juvenile justice system becomes involved in. While this may not go on a permanent record, it does raise concerns about the possibility of future criminal activity and run-ins with law enforcement.
And finally, depending on the severity of depression, self-harm or suicide attempts become a real concern if there’s a lack of professional intervention and care.
We all need support, regardless of our age. It can help to learn new techniques for managing stress, and also to reach out to friends or social networks in times of difficulty. This last year has been especially hard for many people due to the pandemic and our need to isolate for prolonged periods of time.
When there are problems at home, counseling can support both parents and teens. Parents need support, too, in order to be able to navigate teenage depression. It’s best to seek treatment early on, rather than waiting to see if things get better on their own over time.