A child’s life should ideally be blissful and carefree, but that isn’t always the case. Teenagers in particular, go through a lot of physical and hormonal changes. They feel great, planning their future one minute and then looking hopelessly lost and melancholic the next. Peer pressure, parental conflicts, the need to be seen as successful and other factors can put undue pressure on teenagers making them moody and irritable and can cause first signs of depression in teens.
Although that’s okay, there may be times when a child’s moodiness is a sign of something more dangerous – depression. Although teen depression is a well documented subject, it is easy to pass off the symptoms of depression as a normal teenage tantrum. Therefore as parents, teachers, and friends of teenagers, we need to be able to discern when a teen’s moodiness is more than just acting out and when he/she displays signs of depression.
Signs of Depression in Teens
So how do you identify signs of depression in children? Here are some common behavioral patterns observed.
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Displaying irritability, anger outbursts, and hostility
- Frequent crying
- Feeling guilty
- Withdrawing from family, friends, and society
- Showing signs of disinterest in usual activities
- Displaying a lack of enthusiasm and motivation
- Sudden drop in grades
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Suffering memory loss
- Difficulty in making decisions
- Erratic eating habits
- Displaying restlessness and agitation
- Having unexplained aches and pains
- Feeling tired or lacking energy
- Having suicidal thoughts or tendencies
- Weight loss or weight gain
The tricky problem with teen depression is that not all teenagers exhibit symptoms of sadness or withdrawal. Signs of depression in teens can also take on the form of irritability, aggression, and rage. Again, teenagers not suffering from depression may exhibit some of these symptoms as well.
The key differentiating factors are the length of time the symptoms persist, how severe they are and how much the teenager has deviated from his/her usual self as as result of these symptoms. If the symptoms persist for more than two weeks and causes a significant change in the behavior of the child, interfering with normal life, it is indicative of a bigger problem. In fact, it is said that the risk of childhood depression is high in the case of children whose parents suffer or have suffered from depression.
Effects of Teenage Depression
Teenagers suffering from depression tend to cope with their emotional pain and struggles in a number of ways:
Poor performance in school: Depression tends to leave teens with low energy. They have difficulty concentrating and this in turn leads to poor grades. This further adds to their feelings of worthlessness.
Tendency to run away: Teen depression can lead them to run away from home or talk about running away.
Drug and alcohol abuse: Teenagers try to make themselves feel better by abusing drugs and alcohol, little realizing that it only makes things worse.
Internet addiction: Teenagers who withdraw themselves from society may find solace on the Internet to escape their problems.
Reckless behavior: Signs of depression in teens also reveals itself in wild and reckless behavioral patterns such as excessive drinking and reckless driving.
Indulging in violence: Depressed teens, especially bullied boys tend to exhibit violent behavior and homicidal tendencies.
How to Cope with Depressed Teens
Although depression is a serious illness, it is treatable. Once you suspect signs of depression, take your child to your family doctor to rule out any form of illness. If necessary, get a formal mental health assessment from a psychiatrist. Treatment for depression can range from therapy to medication or a combination of the two.
You can refer to the websites such as The American Psychological Association, The National Association of Social Workers, or The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for help in finding a therapist in your area.
Maintain a journal to document the treatment. You can note down every time your child takes the prescribed medication, record the dosage taken, the mood, behavior, physical symptoms, as well as the benefits and side effects of the medication.
Set tangible goals and use that to measure progress. For instance, you can set to improve your child’s depressive feelings by getting him/her to smile more.
You can also participate in family therapy sessions. Depression in one member of the family can take a toll on everyone. Therefore it is important to make that commitment to work together. This will benefit both the child as well as the family in coping with the illness.
Depression is not a simple illness where recovery will happen overnight or after a prescribed period. Rather it is a journey that is wrought with difficulties and setbacks. Keep that in mind while you’re on the process to helping your child recover. Continue to work hard and work together. Eventually you will be able to help your child overcome it, stand on his/her own, and find happiness.