It’s common for adolescents to be moody. Your teen might go from elated to frustrated to furious to weepy in the course of a day. Hormones and the stress of growing up into an adult are likely culprits. Sometimes, however, moodiness can be indicative of something more serious. Approximately one in five teens experiences depression before they reach adulthood, and sometimes depression leads to suicide. How can you tell if your teen is depressed or just moody? Read on to find out more about the signs of teen depression and what to do if you notice you teen displaying these symptoms.
Sadness, Anger, and Other Strong Feelings
While teens do naturally experience negative feelings at times, when an adolescent has depression, those feelings are more negative and longer-lasting than normal mood swings. In general, if sadness or hopelessness lasts two weeks or longer, it could be teen depression.
Many people think that sadness, including tearfulness and crying, is the main symptom of teen depression, but anger is another one.
Another is feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Teens might feel guilty over feeling depressed, over events and occurrences that have nothing to do with them, or for no reason at all. All teens sometimes question their self-worth, but if your teen is frequently berating him- or herself or feeling as though they don’t have any redeeming qualities, this can be a sign of depression.
Isolation and Withdrawal
Teens who feel depressed often lose interest in their favorite activities, places, and people. This can cause them to want to simply stay in their bedrooms or at home without any outside contact. A depressed teen might drop off of their sports team, for example, or stop doing schoolwork. They might refuse to go to school or to go out with friends. He or she might not want to participate in family events, such as shared meals or outings.
In some cases, isolation can lead to teen depression. If your teen has anxiety, including social anxiety, it can contribute to or worsen depression. Many people with anxiety do not want to leave home because they fear having a panic attack in public. This is called agoraphobia. Those with this condition can become depressed, which leads to further isolation. If you notice that your teen is not leaving the house or interacting with anyone, seek help.
Depression is a mental health condition, but its signs can include physical symptoms. Many times, people with depression suffer from the following physical symptoms:
- stomach pain
- muscle aches
They might eat more or less than usual, and they might have trouble sleeping or sleep too much.
Of course, these symptoms can also result from physical health conditions, both mild and serious. Most of the time, mild insomnia, a stomachache or a headache in a teen is not anything to worry about. Occasionally it can be a symptom of a serious health condition, and sometimes it can be a symptom of teen depression. If your teenager is dealing with non-specific physical symptoms, think about whether there are also other symptoms of depression present. Either way, a trip to the doctor will help confirm or rule out any health conditions and can result in a referral to a mental health professional if the cause is determined to be depression or some other mental health issue.
Thoughts of Death or Suicide
The most severe side effect of teen depression is, of course, suicide. Teens can be particularly susceptible to suicide; they are often guided strongly by their feelings, and they do not yet have a fully developed frontal cortex, which can help them make good choices. It’s important to be aware of the signs of suicidal thoughts and to step in quickly if you suspect that your teen might be suicidal.
Symptoms of suicidal thoughts include:
- all of the symptoms of depression
- giving away treasured items
- talking about death (even in jest)
- wishing that they were dead
- having a plan for death
- reckless behavior, such as driving too fast or doing things that could result in death
If your teen has access to weapons, most notably a gun, they are at greater risk for suicide, because they’d be able to carry out their plan quickly. Being suicidal is an emergency condition and requires immediate intervention.
Talk to your teen about the signs of being suicidal so they can watch for them in their friends. Many times, a teen who is depressed and suicidal will reach out to other teens before they reach out to an adult, such as a parent or teacher. Let your teen know that if they suspect one of their friends might be suicidal, it’s important to report it to an adult who can help.
Getting Help for Teen Depression
If you suspect that your child is suffering from teen depression, the first thing to do is talk to them about the issue. Share your concerns and see if they will open up to you. A depressed teen might not know that they can feel better with proper treatment. It’s important not to let the situation go on without addressing it because depression left unchecked will often get worse. When you talk to your teen, be careful not to be dismissive of his or her feelings. Saying things like, “what do you have to be depressed about?” is not helpful and will, in fact, make the situation worse.
If your teen does not want to talk to you about his or her feelings, bring in a third party. A school counselor, a therapist, or even a trusted family friend, coach, or teacher might be able to help. Sometimes teens feel more comfortable talking about their feelings to someone other than a parent. Try not to take it personally; instead, focus on getting your teen the help he or she needs.
In the event that you suspect your teen is suicidal, take him or her to the doctor. If it’s an urgent situation, don’t hesitate to go to the emergency room. The doctors there can do a psychiatric evaluation and refer to a mental health facility if that’s what’s needed to keep your teen safe.
Knowing what to do if your teen is depressed can be difficult. As a parent, the situation is overwhelming and you might second-guess your every move. Consult with a mental health professional to learn how to best help your child. Also, consider getting counseling for yourself, because helping a teen through a mental health condition is exhausting and stressful. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your child.