A Parent’s Guide to Teenage Depression

As a parent, it can sometimes be difficult to read your teen. He or she might seem moody, sad, elated, or angry for no discernible reason. In addition, your teen’s moods might fluctuate fairly dramatically on a daily (or even an hourly) basis. How can you determine whether your teen’s sadness or anger is a part of normal fluctuations or something more serious? You might already know that depression can strike during the adolescent years and that in severe cases, it can lead to suicide. While this is a scary topic, it is important to be informed. Read on for information on teenage depression.


Statistics on Teenage Depression

Teen depression is on the rise, and there are several reasons for this. One is that diagnosis methods are better and more widely available. While a teen in the 1970’s suffering from depression might have been written off as misbehaving or trying to get attention, adolescents in the 21st century are often screened for depression by their primary care doctors each time they go in for a routine checkup. Today’s increasingly stressful lifestyles are also causing more teen depression.

It is estimated that one out of five adolescents will have a mental health issue, including depression, in any given year. This means that it is likely that a handful of teens in your child’s class has depression at any time. It also means that your own teen is susceptible to developing this or another disorder.

The most serious side effect of depression is suicidal ideation. If a teen is considering suicide, it can lead to an attempt, and an attempt can lead to death. This is why it is important to be aware of the issues surrounding teen depression and to keep the lines of communication open between you and your teenager.


What Causes Teen Depression

One reason that teens are susceptible to developing depression is that there are a lot of hormones circulating through your teen’s body and affecting his or her brain. If endorphin levels drop, depression can set in. Also, many teens have trouble with fluctuating emotions and this can lead to anxiety or depression.

There are also lifestyle-based reasons for teen depression to be rising. Teens are often sleep-deprived, which can lead to or exacerbate depression. They might feel isolated due to increasing pressure to get good grades so they can get into the college of their choice. Teens are under more stress now than they were in generations past. And since depression can run in families for a variety of reasons, several teens in one family might be affected. Many times, there is no one reason why a teen develops depression.


Signs of Teen Depression

It is a good idea to be aware of the signs and symptoms of teen depression. Here are some of them:

  • Sadness, anger, or hopelessness that lasts longer than two weeks. While it is normal for teens to feel the ebbs and flows of strong emotions, if they are having a hard time for two weeks or more, this is an indication that something more serious than regular teen mood swings could be to blame.
  • Frequent crying and angry outbursts. Again, the key here is that these emotional events happen consistently and over a period of time.
  • Isolation. If your teen is staying in his or her bedroom rather than engaging with family members and is not going out with friends or otherwise interacting with others, this is a sign that depression might be an underlying issue.
  • Physical signs like frequent headaches, muscle aches, overwhelming fatigue, or digestive complaints. Of course, these might have a physical root, so it is important to have your teen checked, but many times, physical issues accompany depression.
  • Apathy. Has your teen dropped off of the soccer team, quit his or her part-time job, and stopped caring about schoolwork? Maybe he or she is even avoiding friends and not keeping up with personal grooming. If this is becoming a pattern, suspect depression.


How Is Teen Depression Treated?

Teen depression is often detected by a primary care doctor. It can be treated by that doctor, but many times, a pediatrician will refer a teenager with depression to a mental health specialist. Treatment might entail therapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy or other counseling strategies) and/or medication.

There are some risks when it comes to teenagers taking antidepressants, and you should talk to the prescribing doctor about your concerns. Also, medications take some time to work and might require some tweaking with the dosage, so encourage your teen to continue taking them as prescribed and not to stop them suddenly.


Lifestyle Changes That Might Help

In addition to or in lieu of medications and therapy, depression will often improve at least somewhat with lifestyle changes. Consider encouraging your teen to try the following; they will not cure their depression, but they might make them feel better while they give the counseling and/or medication time to work. In the case of very mild depression, these might be all that is needed.

  • Getting enough sleep. Teens need about nine hours of sleep per night, and most are not getting it. A lack of sleep can make depression worse, so encourage your teenager to go to bed earlier.
  • Exercising regularly. Exercise has been shown to improve the symptoms of depression in teens and adults. If he or she is not taking physical education class in school or playing a sport, talk about ways that more exercise can be added to his or her routine.
  • Getting outdoors. If the shorter days of winter are contributing to your teen’s depression, then taking some time to get outside each day can help him or her to feel better. Light therapy might also be indicated if your teen has what is called seasonal affective disorder, which is sometimes called the “winter blues.”

If you are concerned about your teen’s mental health, call his or her primary care doctor to request a screening for depression. With proper treatment and some lifestyle changes, your teen can begin to enjoy good mental health once again.