It’s not unusual for teens to have times when they feel down in the dumps. In fact, it would be abnormal if they never felt sad! But how do you know when “normal” sadness has developed into depression?
“Both children and teens are at risk of depression when they experience traumatic events in their lives, such as divorce, death of a loved one, abuse or illness,” says Elissa Smilowitz, LCSWR and Coordinator of Triage & Emergency Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center.
But there isn’t always a dramatic event that triggers depression.
“Beginning around puberty, the risk of depression in teens increases,” says Regina Barros-Rivera, Associate Executive Director at the Guidance Center. “Their bodies are changing, and they’re experiencing hormonal fluctuations that can make them irritable and moody.”
But moodiness doesn’t necessarily indicate depression, she adds. “It’s normal behavior for teens to begin separating from their parents and trying to become their own individuals. A certain amount of rebellion is common at this time, as they are attempting to determine and establish who they are.”
During the teen years, peers become the number one influence in each other’s lives, but that doesn’t mean your role as a parent is any less significant. “Even though you feel them pulling away, your teens still need you during this time,” says Barros-Rivera. “They are more likely to begin engaging in risky behavior, so your influence is as important as ever. They need you to help them develop good judgment.”
Along with adolescence comes a whole host of new pressures. Schoolwork, body image, sexual orientation and peer pressure all can combine to make a teen feel overwhelmed.
So, while moodiness is a hallmark for adolescents, how do you know when your teen is experiencing depression and might need professional treatment?
Here are some signs that may indicate depression:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Low self-esteem
- Increased anger
- Worry about loss of control
- Crying often
- Inability to feel joy
- Changes in appetite (either increased or decreased)
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Feeling tired
- Changes in grades or attitude toward school
- Having trouble concentrating
- Physical complaints like headaches or stomachaches
- Use of drugs and/or alcohol
- Expressing thoughts of suicide or wanting to die
Remember, it’s important that a medical doctor examine your teen since some symptoms of depression can have a physical cause such as thyroid problems, diabetes or other conditions. It may also run in families.
If you begin to see several of these symptoms lasting two weeks or more, contact a mental health professional. You can reach North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center at 516-626-1971.
Note: For some helpful tips on preventing depression in your child or teen, click here for an article from the Mayo Clinic.