Teen depression isn’t like cloudy weather, that blows over if you wait long enough. Even when counseling or medication aren’t required, the suffering your teen endures when depressed is very real and needs to be recognized.
Unfortunately, recognizing teen depression isn’t always easy, even for the most caring parents. Some teens aren’t able or willing to talk about depression with the adults in their life. Others may actively hide their true feelings. In some cases, teens may not even understand depression well enough to realize they have it.
If you are concerned that your teen may be depressed, here are some signs and symptoms to look for:
1) Changes in physical habits such as weight loss or weight gain, excessive wakefulness at night, or excessive sleeping during the day.
2) A lack of enthusiasm for things that used to bring joy, such as favorite activities or hobbies.
3) An increasing tendency to self-isolate by avoiding spending friends or family.
4) A drop in grades.
5) Becoming passive, such as no longer making decisions, participating in regular activities, or caring about the future.
6) Being sad or irritable most of the time.
7) Complaining about physical pain or discomfort when there is no diagnosable physical illness.
8) Talking about death or suicide.
If you think your teen may be depressed, the first thing to do is to have a conversation. It may be that there is an underlying circumstance that you aren’t aware of. This could vary from some temporary issue, such as failure in a minor endeavor, to something very serious, such as being the victim of bullying or some other form of abuse. The symptoms you are seeing may result from appropriate sadness over a relatively superficial or temporary situation to a long-term mental health issue requiring professional intervention. Whatever the cause, your best chance of bringing it to light is starting a conversation with your teen and then sitting back to listen with an open mind and an open heart.
After talking to your teen, use your judgment to decide if a professional should be consulted. Different types of issues require different types of healthcare providers. It may be that there are underlying physical issues causing depression. In this case, a primary care provider may be able to help. If physical illness isn’t the issue and your teen is experiencing consistent, long-term depression, a mental health provider may be needed. Whether counseling, medication or both are needed, a teen who is suffering from depression will benefit from having a professional on his or her personal “team”.
Regardless of the source of the depression, your teen needs the reassurance of your unconditional love and support. One way to communicate this is to spend plenty of one-on-one time with your teen. Another is to show consistent interest in your teens’ activities, opinions and feelings. Be generous with praise and encouragement. Many teens are troubled by self-doubt, particularly when experiencing depression. Your belief in your teen helps counterbalance this.
Be sure to pay attention to your teen’s physical health. Eating well and getting adequate sleep and exercise help teens cope with stress and depression. Cutting back on responsibilities at home may help reduce stress, particularly if schoolwork is part of the problem. If this is the case, you might need to discuss the situation with your teen’s teachers.
Social relationships are also important. Encourage your teen to spend time on fun activities with people who are supportive and encouraging. Positive feedback from a variety of people helps teens develop self-confidence and overcome setbacks.
Encourage your teen to talk about feelings of sadness or thoughts about death and depression. If there is a family history of depression or suicide, be open about it. Sharing this family history helps normalize talking about suicide and depression. This, in turn, encourages your teen to be open and honest with you about similar thoughts and feelings. If your teen is having thoughts of self-harm, remove the means of suicide from the home or lock up all firearms, weapons, alcohol and drugs.
If there is a danger of immediate self-harm, seek emergency assistance. After the crisis is resolved, don’t be embarrassed to ask your teen to save the number of the National Suicide Lifeline, in his or her cell phone. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). To reach the Crisis Text Line, text TALK to 741741.
For parents of teens with mental health issues, here are some resources recommended:
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Indiana- Family Support Group (Virtual and In-Person options available)
“NAMI Family Support Group is a peer-led support group for any adult with a loved one who has experienced symptoms of a mental health condition. Gain insight from the challenges and successes of others facing similar experiences.”
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Child Mind Institute
RMH Mental Health: 765-932-7591