The statistics are scary: one teenager in five will suffer from depression. In the tumult of the teenage years, it can be hard to know if your child is one of the 20 percent or simply traveling through a challenging time.
There are some primary symptoms of depression in teens that parents should know:
- Withdrawal: Is your child spending less time in activities she previously enjoyed, cutting herself off from friends and family, or skipping school? Does your son refuse to participate in family get-togethers? Does he obsessively surf the internet? Has she taken withdrawal to the extreme step of running away from home?
- Physical changes: Has your child gained or lost weight, repeatedly complained of headaches or other pain, shifted sleep patterns (excessive sleep, insomnia, or a change in sleep times) or stopped paying attention to his hygiene? Does she walk and talk more slowly than normal or, alternatively, is she agitated and restless, pacing or wringing her hands?
- Mental difficulties: Does it seem as though your child can’t concentrate or is having memory problems? Have her grades dropped?
- Self-harm: Does he take risks like speeding while driving? Do you suspect that he has started using drugs or is drinking alcohol? Does she cut, burn, or otherwise harm herself?
- Depression or preoccupation with death and dying: Does your child express feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness or seem irrationally sensitive to perceived criticism? Is he irritable for no obvious reason? Does he frequently lash out in anger? Of most concern, does your child constantly read, write, and talk about death and dying? Does she joke about dying or comment that she would better off dead? Has she said that there’s no escape from these feelings? Is he giving away some of his favorite possessions, or collecting items that could potentially be used in a suicide attempt?
Some of these symptoms may be nothing more than the normal upheaval of the teenage years. The best indication, however, that your teen is suffering from depression is if the symptoms don’t ease up or disappear. If they, instead, become more severe, this is not the time to hope for the best or doubt the validity of your perceptions; it’s time to take your concern seriously and take action immediately.
If you are concerned about your teen, the first step is to talk to her about what is going on. Your child may be waiting for signs of your loving concern before she can express her feelings. Tread lightly, don’t try to force a conversation, but do let your child know that you love him and that you are worried about his welfare. Don’t lecture or dismiss her feelings; listen and validate what she tells you.
If conversation with your teen doesn’t reassure you, you may find clues in her social media like Facebook or Twitter. Your child may be using social media as an outlet for her confused feelings. Yes, he may be angry at a perceived intrusion, but resentment is a small price to pay if you believe your child is in danger.
A school counselor or family doctor is another resource, both as a reality check for you and a source of recommendations for further help.
A professional counselor, particularly one who has experience with teens, can be the most valuable asset. Individual therapy can be valuable to a troubled teenager, but don’t forget that a crisis involves your whole family and therefore family counseling is an important option. Invite your child to participate in picking a therapist that she can relate to.
With support from parents, family members, and professionals, teen depression is very treatable.