Many people expect their teens to be moody, irritable, or even occasionally withdrawn, so they may not realize right away that their child is dealing with depression.
There are also a lot of misconceptions about teenage depression, especially since many of the typical signs can be quite different than those of adult depression.
When you think about depression, your first thought is probably sadness, melancholy, and lack of motivation. But, instead, teens often become angry, irritable, and aggressive. Since teens express their feelings differently than adults, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between normal adolescent struggles and something much more serious. So, if you have any concerns at all, you should seek the advice of a medical professional or counsellor because depression among teenagers is much more common than many people realize. In fact, some statistics show that as many as 1 out of 8 teens are affected, but experts say that only about 20% will actually receive the help they need.
Yes, occasional bad moods are quite normal, but any significant changes in behavior may be warning signs of a more serious problem.
How is Teen Depression Different From Adult Depression?
Many of the typical signs and symptoms of depression may be present in teens; however, in some ways, teenage depression can look much different from adult depression.
1. While sadness and despair are very common among depressed adults, this is not necessarily the case with teens (although they may express these feelings as well). Often, depressed teens are irritable, aggressive, grumpy, and angry, especially toward family members. Adults are typically much more subdued and quiet, but teenagers may become easily frustrated at once simple tasks, and the littlest things can cause outbursts of rage.
2. Depressed teenagers are much more likely than adults to complain about physical ailments such as headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, nausea, and back pain. If there does not seem to be a medical explanation for these symptoms then depression may be a factor.
3. Depressed adults have a tendency to withdraw from friendships and social situations. But, teens will usually maintain relationships with their peers, especially since they believe that their friends are the only people who can understand what they are going through.
However, they will often withdraw from adults, particularly their parents. When you ask a depressed teen, “What is wrong?”, you will likely get a response such as “Nothing”, or “You wouldn’t understand”. When at home, they may spend hours alone in their room, yet can also become quite social when it involves spending time with friends.
Another warning sign of teenage depression is a sudden change in friends or social group.
4. Many depressed adults will become apathetic or even docile, whereas teens will often be extremely sensitive and vulnerable about the thoughts or comments of others. Since they have low self-esteem, they will be especially sensitive to criticism or any actions and attitudes that make them feel rejected or inadequate. Even if a comment is not meant to be an insult, depressed teens will often misinterpret what they hear because they are irritated or angry at the world.
One of the greatest concerns with depression is the increased risk of suicide. Teens are much more likely than adults to romanticize suicide, believing that everything will be better and everyone will love them after they are gone. They may write poetry or songs about death. Artwork will be dark and even violent. They may become very interested in famous people who committed suicide or died tragic deaths, and might even admire these figures.
Suicide is a very real problem among teens, so any warning flags should not be ignored.
5. Many teens struggling with depression will also experience some of the same symptoms as adults, such as a sense of hopelessness, anxiety, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, low self-esteem, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. However, as previously mentioned, teenagers may deal with these feelings much differently than their adult counterparts. This is due in part to maturity level and the hormonal changes associated with adolescence, but social and environmental factors also play an important role. For example, adults do not typically attend school and can usually create their own “rules” within the home so they are less likely to exhibit rebellious behavior or suffer a drop in grades.
It is important that parents, teachers, and other adults become aware of these differences so they can recognize the signs of teenage depression as early as possible.
Besides the five points listed above, other warning signs include:
• Problems at school. Since depression often causes fatigue and difficulty concentrating, teens may struggle to keep up with homework and assignments. Poor attendance, a significant drop in grades, or behavioral issues may all be signs that a teen is dealing with depression.
• Rebellious behavior. Most teenagers will balk at some of the family rules such as curfew, television privileges, or chores; but, when behavior becomes increasingly rebellious, occurs in other social settings (school, work, friends’ homes), or leads to trouble with the law, then it is possible that these issues are only symptoms of a much deeper problem.
• Violence. Violence is much more common among teenage boys than girls,and seems to be more prevalent among males who have unhappy home lives or who have been bullied by their peers. Sometimes this violence can escalate and teens can become both suicidal and homicidal.
• Eating disorders and self-injury. Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating can be indicators of depression, especially among girls. Similarly, self-injurious behavior like cutting, scratching, or burning can also be a cry for help.
• Drug and alcohol abuse. Excessive drug and alcohol use is very common among depressed teens. It usually begins as a way of escaping the pain, but often accelerates until it becomes an uncontrollable addiction. Any signs of substance use should be investigated further.
• Boredom or lack of interest in activities. Many depressed teens will be perpetually bored, refusing to engage in conversation with adults and finding no interest in activities they used to enjoy.
• Running away. Running away from home, or even threatening to run away, can be a red flag for depression. A sense of worthlessness and low self-esteem make teens feel like they are unwanted or no longer fit in at home. Anger and rebelliousness may also be factors. But, whatever the reason, running away is often a warning sign for depression.
• Reckless Behavior. Teenagers are sometimes a little more carefree and often heedless of safety, but out of hand behavior, such as dangerous driving, unsafe sex, or excessive drug and alcohol use, may be something a little more serious than just a desire to have fun.
Talking to Teens About Depression
Many teens are hesitant to open up about their feelings because they are afraid of being misunderstood, especially by their parents. If a teen is willing to talk, it is important that the adult offer a listening – but non-judgemental – ear. When they believe that their feelings are validated and they aren’t going to be belittled or criticized for their honesty, then the journey to recovery can begin.
As an adult, if you are finding it difficult to offer this kind of support, or if the teen in your life refuses to open up to you, then seeking the help of a medical or mental health professional may be beneficial.
Teen depression is very treatable, but the earlier the intervention begins, the quicker the recovery will be. Many teens overcome depression through counselling or support groups, but sometimes temporary medications are necessary. If the symptoms have been present for more than two weeks, if they are increasing in severity, or if the teen has experienced an extreme change in behavior, appearance, peer group, or academic performance, then it may be time to seek professional help.
With the pressures of today’s society, depression among teenagers is becoming increasingly more common. But, with proper treatment, teens can learn to change their perspective, mange their feelings, and overcome depression so that they can live a very happy and fulfilling life.
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