It is tough being a teenager and depression in teens is a serious concern for today’s youth. With ever growing social pressures, the transition years from being a child to becoming a young adult can be quite a hectic and trying time for a young person. There are many factors besides social, school and parental pressures that can lead a teenager to develop depression. Knowing the risk factors can help young people understand and cope better with the situations that can trigger a depressive episode.
While it is tough being a teenager, it is just as tough being the parent of one. A young person’s journey from being totally reliant on their parents when they are a child to becoming a self reliant young adult does not come without some lashing out and conflict with their parents. It is often a natural part of their road to independence. It is sometimes hard for a parent to determine what is typical teenage behavior from what is something that they should be more concerned about. During these years teens are still mostly dependent on their parents or guardians for health related issues and care, both physical and mental. For parents it is important to know which signs of depression to keep an eye out for so they can get their children the proper help they may need in cases of depression.
Suicide is a real risk for any teen going through a major depressive episode, especially if left untreated. In 2007, suicide was the third leading killer of young Americans between the ages of 15 and 24. If a young person, or anyone for that matter, is in immediate crisis it is extremely important to seek professional help or visit your local emergency medical center right away. For a list of numbers or to talk to someone about suicide you can visit our Suicide Hotline section.
Symptoms of Depression In Teens
Teenagers may exhibit any of the common depression symptoms, however they may tend to show different signs as those more typically seen in adults. Some may include:
Feelings of anger, irritation, frustration and restlessness
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities they once considered fun
- Fatigue, changes in motivation, loss and lack of energy
- Changes in appetite with weight gain or weight loss
- Increase in unusually dangerous behavior and activities such as drug and alcohol abuse, wreckless driving, promiscuous unprotected sexual encounters
- Lack of concentration, difficulty thinking clearly
- Intense sadness or guilt
- Sudden drop in performance at school, decrease or reluctance to attend school
- Increase in the number of physical complaints, aches and pains
- Changes in sleep habits
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Teens may not show some of the signs seen in adults such as intense sadness, complete withdrawal from friend, family and social situations, and wanting to sleep all the time. Teens may instead demonstrate their depressive symptoms in other ways such as anger and irritation, hanging out with a completely new circle of friends, drug or alcohol abuse. These symptoms of hostility and anger make it harder for parents to differentiate between behavior that may be construed as just a teenage “phase” or something more serious such as clinical depression.
If their behavior has lasted for a period of time, at least two weeks, and a stark difference in which they do not seem like themselves may be cause for concern. Signs and symptoms that affect normal life activities, affect school or social interactions negatively, may point to a situation where help may be needed. In this confusing time of life, teenagers are less apt to know they may be suffering from depression which decreases the likelihood that they seek or openly ask for help. For parents, this is where knowing what to look for becomes crucial.
It is important to know that every teen is different and not everyone shows or exhibits depression symptoms in the same way. No symptom should be ignored.
Causes and Risk Factors
While the exact cause for depression in teens is not known, there are certain factors that are believed to play a role and increase a person chances of developing depression. For teens, some additional factors may have a part in their depressive episodes. Below are some, not all, potential factors that may cause depression in teens.
Pressure: Today’s teenagers can face a tremendous amount of pressure from different angles. Social pressures, school pressures and parental pressures can weigh heavy on the minds of young people and in some instance may be overwhelming. With new and ever increasing standards seen on television, in movies and on the internet, a teenager’s desire to live up to these sometimes unobtainable standards of how they should look, speak and dress can lead to crushing disappointments, body image issues or even eating disorders in worst case scenarios. Pressure to excel is school and make their parents happy can also be too much for some. Teens can also get bullied and picked on which can lower their self esteem and can drastically affect their emotional well being and lead to major depression. To a young person who is not well equipped to cope with all of this, a major depressive episode can be a real risk.
Mental, Physical and Sexual Abuse: Any young person can be drastically changed by having to endure any form of abuse. They may not often understand or grasp what is happening and often end up blaming themselves and a sense of guilt and worthlessness may develop. Depression as a result of abuse is not that uncommon and professional help should be sought after in these cases.
Family History of Mental Illness: Those who have had a family member who has suffered through depression or other mental illnesses are at increased risk themselves. This does not guarantee that they will suffer the same fate, it just increases their risk.
Family and Life Changes: Events such as parents divorcing or the family moving to a new town or changing schools can increase some teens risk for depression and lead to an increase in their anxiety and stress levels. Sudden or extreme life changes may be harder for some to deal with than others.
Getting Help For Your Depressed Teen
For parents, loved ones or guardians, getting help for a teenager suffering from depression may not be easy. They often may not realize that they are suffering from a depressive illness and may not ask for help themselves and may be resistant to getting help altogether. If you are worried that your teenager may be suffering from depression it is important to try and talk to them. Just as important as talking is listening. Being supportive, sympathetic but persistent is vital. Getting them to open up and trying to understand what they may be going through can be a major first step in helping them realize that they should seek some form of treatment.
You can relay your concerns to their primary care physician and ask that they give them a depression test or ask if they could recommend or refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for your teen.
Depression treatment for teens may include some form of psychotherapy (talk therapy) to try and get to the cause of the what is troubling the young patient. It will also aim to show them better ways to deal with stressful situations and how their thoughts and behavior can have a negative impact on their moods. It can give them support as it teaches them coping skills and shows them how to better solve emotional problems in a healthier way. There are many forms of psychotherapy as well as family and group forms of therapy. After a careful diagnosis, the therapist should determine the best course of action for treatment and discuss before starting what the patient and parents should expect.
Antidepressants may also be part of the treatment for depression in teens, however the patients and their parents should be made aware of the potential for side effects associated with medication. Younger patients are at greater risks of having their depression symptoms worsen in some cases which could lead to a increased chance of suicide. Patients under 24 years of age should be monitored closely when on antidepressants for any sudden changes in their symptoms for the worse.
Teen depression may be a hard thing to spot, deal with and overcome, but if you know what to look for and how to approach your suffering teen, getting timely proper help may be a little easier. It is important for anyone battling with depression to know that they are not alone in their suffering and that there is always hope and help available to get them through their dark time.