The main symptom of depression is a pervasive feeling of sadness that is heavy and often feels oppressive. Adults occasionally describe depression as one of the most painful experiences they’ve had. It is often physically apparent, where facial muscles slump, eyes are often downward facing, and shoulders fall inward. Others might slip into crying quite easily.
However, people will express depression in many ways. Some teens who suffer from teen depression might have a hard time expressing this uncomfortable state. For example, when you ask your son about whether he might be feeling depressed or sad, he actually may not be able to identify a painful mental state. Instead, he might express a physical ailment, such as a headache or stomachache. Teens may appear joyless and irritable, and for those who feel uncomfortable expressing sadness, such as adolescent boys, despair might be expressed through anger or self-destructive behaviors.
Some teens might even experience what is called anhedonia, which is the inability to enjoy the people and activities that once brought joy and pleasure. Instead, their faces might become cold and unable to express any emotions at all. Other symptoms of depression include disturbances in sleep, such as sleeping too much or very little. The same is true with eating. Consumption of food will either greatly increase or dramatically decline.
The common symptoms of depression are:
- A depressed mood
- Loss of interest in activities
- Social withdrawal
- Suicidal thoughts
- Poor concentration
- Poor memory
- Slow thinking
- Loss of motivation
- Sleep disturbance – insomnia / hypersomnia
- Appetite disturbance – weight loss/gain
It’s easy and common for parents to disregard symptoms of depression as a part of adolescence. Its symptoms can appear to look like those that are “normal” for a teenager. The danger here is that some parents might mistake these symptoms as part “the typical teenage years” and do nothing. Other parents might schedule counseling sessions for their adolescent and after a month or two think that they’ve taken care of the problem. When symptoms are severe, teen depression treatment becomes more then a few counseling sessions.
One of the tasks of a parent is to determine whether a mental illness exists. However, this task is not one to do alone; rather, seeking professional help is best. In order to be diagnosed for depression, your child must meet certain diagnostic criteria. This, along with knowing the emotional and behavioral history of your child as well as the history of depression in your family will assist a psychologist or therapist in making an accurate diagnosis.
Seeking professional support is also incredibly important for suicide prevention. Depression is a significant contributor to suicide, and teen suicide is the third leading cause of death of adolescents. The National Institute of Mental Health indicates that there are as many as 25 attempts of suicide to every one that is actually committed. Male teens are four more times likely to die from suicide, whereas female adolescents are more likely to make suicide attempts. Although there are many reasons that might cause a suicide attempt, the most common is depression. Other causes include divorce of parents, domestic violence, lack of success or progress in school, feelings of unworthiness, death of a loved one, and others.
Although, statistics report that female teens are about twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as boys, what is more accurate is that girls are more likely to report their depressed symptoms. This has had an effect on statistics in recent years.
If it turns out that your teenager is diagnosed with depression, keep in mind that with the right support and your continued presence in his or her life, depression is treatable. But, by all means, don’t ignore these symptoms. Your child’s well being at this stage in life is essential for a successful transition into adulthood.
Hicks, J.W. (2005). 50 signs of mental illness: A user-friendly guide to psychiatric symptoms and what you should know about them. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press