To parents, a teen’s life may seem carefree. But in reality, teens struggle with many of the same problems that adults do, including depression. Teens with depression often exhibit many warning signs — as a parent, you want to know what they are and what action to take.
“Attempt to be a non-judgmental, safe, good listener,” suggested Scott Bea, PsyD, a cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist specializing in anxiety and mood disorders and assistant professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. “Offer support and positive alternatives including seeking assistance from mental-health professionals. Attempt to normalize the behavior of seeking help by noting that all individuals struggle with the problems in living.”
If depression runs in your family, talk with your teen about it. “This can help a teenager understand that they are not at fault for experiencing depression,” said Dr. Bea.
Get your teen the help he or she needs if you spot any of these warning signs of teen depression.
1. Deep Sadness
One sign of teen depression is sadness that persists for more than two weeks. Teens who are depressed may have thoughts of suicide or talk about suicide or hurting themselves through cutting or another method, said Bea.
If you don’t feel like your teen is being open with you, turn to friends. “It is always important to be friends with your child’s friends,” said Tatiana Falcone, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and researcher at the Cleveland Clinic. “Sometimes, despite all their efforts, parents are the last to know when their child is depressed, and friends can be very helpful identifying the symptoms and, in some cases, alerting the parents when the adolescent is making any comments that imply suicidal ideation.”
2. Changes in Eating Habits or Weight
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology reviewed the role of weight in depression in teens, and found that girls who were overweight or obese were nearly twice as likely to have depression as girls who had a healthy body weight. If your child seems tormented about weight, it could be a sign of depression.
Changes in eating habits are also a sign of teen depression, said Bea. Look for suddenly eating significantly more or less or sudden changes in weight, and talk with your teen about what may be bothering him or her.
3. Changes in Sleep Patterns and Activity
Teens who have depression often show changes in their sleep patterns. Some of these teens may suddenly exhibit insomnia and have significant trouble sleeping, while others may sleep far more than usual, said Dr. Falcone.
She added that changes in activity level may also be a warning sign of depression in teens. Some teens may show slowed movements and a lower activity level than usual, while others may seem physically agitated and move more than usual, doing things like nervously pacing, chewing nails, or wringing the hands.
4. Changes in Mood and Behaviors
If your typically conscientious teen is suddenly abusing alcohol or other drugs, getting into legal trouble, or being promiscuous, know that these could be warning signs of teen depression. A teen may feel very discouraged or develop an unusually negative attitude. Teens may feel guilty, worthless, or hopeless, said Bea. They may be very moody — when a happy teen suddenly becomes agitated, irritable, and very easily upset, depression may be to blame. Teens who are depressed may also exhibit drastic changes in their tempers, said Falcone.
5. Plunging Self-Esteem
Some teens with depression may suddenly exhibit poor self-esteem, said Falcone. They may never be satisfied with their appearance or spend more time getting ready for school or other events. Some teens may seek constant reassurance from parents or teachers, she added. More warning signs of depression in teens include feeling unloved or unlovable, or even worthless. Teens who are depressed tend to think negatively and very critically about themselves, so talk with your teen about why he or she feels this way.
Teens with depression often withdraw socially from friends and family and no longer want to participate in activities they used to enjoy, said Bea. “Parents should look for changes in their normal behavior, such as isolation, not wanting to enjoy activities that they used to enjoy before, and not wanting to participate in social activities with peers or the family,” said Falcone.
7. Problems at School
More signs of teen depression include difficulty at school, from declining grades to lack of participation in athletics, organizations, clubs, and other extra-curricular activities, said Bea. Teens who are depressed may struggle to concentrate, have a hard time paying attention at school, and have difficulty making decisions. Some teens may even refuse to go to school, said Falcone.
8. Physical Pain
Teens with depression may also complain of physical symptoms, including pain, that don’t have an otherwise clear cause, said Falcone. Frequent headaches, stomachaches, and pain elsewhere in the body may be a sign of depression in teens. Another is suddenly complaining of being very fatigued and having no energy to do activities they once enjoyed. Teens who are depressed may also experience frequent and sudden spells of crying, said Falcone.