You know your teen may be prone to mood swings, even bouts of anger or profound sadness. This is part of adolescence – but how do you know when it’s something more? Teen depression is a major problem in the United States, contributing to hundreds of suicides each year. In fact, depression is more prevalent among teens in the U.S. than other countries. A recent study in the Psychological Bulletin found that, due to their constant evaluation on social media, today’s teens are more obsessed with perfection. This quest for perfection, in turn, leads to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation.
As a parent, there are things you can watch for that might indicate your teen’s moodiness is more than just hormones. Know the signs of teen depression – and how to intervene.
More Than Just a “Bad” Day
Depression in teens can be difficult to spot. Glumness, irritability, and “bad days” can be part of a normal adolescent experience. There’s a difference, however, between sadness and depression. Regular feelings of sadness dissipate over a couple of days; if your teen has depression, you may notice that your child’s feelings don’t seem to abate or get better over time.
Depression is accompanied by intense feelings of hopelessness, anger, sadness, and frustration. It impacts your teen’s ability to function or participate in activities they used to enjoy. Teens with depression may have trouble focusing in school, sleep excessively, and seem to have no motivation. In other words, teen depression is more than just a bad day or even a string of bad days – it’s a persistent pattern of loneliness, listlessness, and intense unhappiness.
Signs and Symptoms of Teen Depression
Teens who are at an elevated risk for depression may experience a range of symptoms. Be on the lookout for warning signs like:
- Unwillingness to join in activities that were once enjoyable – for example, attending team practices, hanging out with friends, or going to study groups.
- Complaining of insomnia or appearing to be up at odd hours of the night – or sleeping excessively.
- Moving slowly and seeming to have less motivation than usual.
- Changes in dietary habits – eating more or less than usual, gaining or losing weight.
- Difficulty concentrating in school – falling grades, failing tests, or remembering information.
- Complaining of feeling guilty or worthless.
It’s important to note that every teen may experience depression differently. Some may display only one or two of the warning signs listed above; others may experience several. It can be difficult to measure these symptoms at times because teen behavior can change rapidly in response to environmental development – but symptoms of depression do not resolve themselves. If you notice any of these warning signs, and they don’t seem to get better with time or discussion with your teen, it’s time to take action.
What You Can Do
If you suspect that your teen is grappling with depression, approach the situation with compassion:
- Talk to them. It might be tempting to launch into parental “lecture mode,” but come from a place of empathy and understanding. Don’t criticize your child’s behavior – just listen. This lets them know that you’re there to provide unconditional love and support.
- Acknowledge their emotions. It’s important to note that you can’t “talk your teen out” of depression. True depression is a clinical condition, so it won’t matter if you try to explain that things “aren’t that bad.” Empathize with their struggle, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.
- Seek professional help. If your child seems to be in a cloud of depression they just can’t shake, it’s time to make an appointment with your family doctor. They will be able to offer additional guidance or connect you to other mental health resources in the community.
Teen depression is a serious situation that won’t simply improve over time. Know the signs and symptoms and act before the condition gets worse.