Try to remember what it was like when we were teens. Our bodies were changing. We were involved in our first real relationships. We were dealing with expectations to succeed inside and outside the classroom. We faced peer pressure. Now, imagine what it would have been like if social media was putting our teen lives under an even greater microscope.
Yes, teenagers have mood swings. Yes, they often seem to test the limits of your patience. Yes, they complain a lot. Yes, they can act like the whole world is against them. But how do you know what’s normal and what’s not? What is the difference between trivial teen drama and clinical depression, a serious medical condition?
Teen depression causes a virtually unshakable sadness, apathy or anger. It affects how teens think, feel and act. It can even lead to destructive behavior, from violence to substance abuse to suicide. Most importantly, depression isn’t something that teens can just cure themselves. They can’t just snap out of it.
In fact, by 2020, the World Health Organization estimates that depression will be the number two cause of “lost years of healthy life” worldwide.
Signs of teen depression involve noticeable emotional and behavioral changes, including the following:
Feelings of sadness, emptiness and hopelessness that can be accompanied by spontaneous crying
Anger and irritability
Low self-esteem, including feelings of worthlessness or excessive, unwarranted guilt
Increased sensitivity and a tendency to dwell on failure
Restlessness, including pacing, twitching and other nervous, repetitive movements
Lack of concentration and forgetfulness
Loss of interest in activities that the teen used to enjoy and withdrawal from family and friends
Changes in eating habits, including a loss of appetite or overeating
Changes in sleeping habits, like staying awake at night and sleeping all day
Loss of energy and lethargy
Frequent complaints of physical pain, like headaches or stomach aches
Poor school performance
Alcohol or drug use
Frequent thoughts, discussions or writings about death and suicide
As I said earlier, many of these signs of teen depression are normal teenage behavior, or growing pains. Think about how severe these signs are, how long they’ve lasted, and how different they are from how your teen’s usual self. Also, depression can be hereditary, so do a little research to see if there is a history of depression in your family
If you think your teen may be dealing with depression, especially if you think he or she may be in danger, talk to your doctor. Teen depression can be diagnosed through interviews and psychological test with the teen, as well as family, friends and teachers. It can then be treated in a number of ways depending on the severity of the depression and the signs being exhibited.
Remember, depression is a potentially dangerous but treatable condition. This is the year of the family. No family member, especially a child, needs to go through life feeling worthless or alone. Talk to each other. Support each other. And if professional help is required, encourage your loved one to take that potentially life-changing step.
If you’re not sure if your teen is just “being a teenager” or dealing with depression, talk to your doctor, who can refer you to a qualified mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment.