Teens generally go through a range of emotional states as they approach adulthood. Depression is not easy to spot sometimes. It’s more than just a fleeting mood problem or a feelings of sadness. Teen depression can be deep and damaging and left untreated can cause problems both at home and in school.
What is Teen Depression?
First of all, you have to understand that depression is something different. It’s not a bad mood swing or a temporary reaction to something going wrong in a friendship, at home or in school. Depression can overwhelm an individual, change their personality completely and fill them with despair. Whether you are a teacher, parent or friend, recognizing the symptoms and doing something about it is vital. It’s important to know what you are looking for if you are going to be able to help a teen through this difficult period.
The Symptoms of Teen Depression
Someone who appears sad all the time could well be suffering from depression. If they have trouble getting through the day, are crying a lot or seem disinterested in things that used to fill them with joy. We can all accept these as signs of depression and recognize them easily. But what about anger and aggression? Well, these could be indications that someone is suffering from depression as well.
A list of symptoms might include:
All these on their own might seem typical teen ‘hysterics’ but they can also be a real indication that something more substantial is going on. It goes beyond the obvious ‘no one understands me’ or ‘I hate my friends’ to a deeper malaise that continues in a slow spiral downwards.
Ask yourself this: How long has this behavior been going on for? How severe are the symptoms? Is this really the child that I’ve known? While most parents will accept that there is such a thing as growing pains, they’ll also know when a child’s behavior isn’t right. That gut instinct needs to be listened to.
The Effects of Teen Depression
If your child or a teen in your school is suffering from depression it can quickly begin to escalate and give rise to other issues. There might be problems at school either with behavior or attendance. There may be a tendency to use drugs and become addicted. Self-worth will be damaged or a teen could develop an eating disorder or even start self-harming. They may become violent or start indulging reckless behavior. They may even consider suicide.
Obviously, suicide is a big concern. If your teen is saying they’d be better off dead or they joke about committing suicide, then you should actually take it seriously.
Tackling a Depressed Teenager
It’s important to take action if you believe a teen is suffering from depression. This is not the kind of condition that suddenly goes away if you give them space. They may not be suffering from depression but not doing something is costlier than intervening. That initial talk can be difficult, of course, but you shouldn’t avoid it.
Tell your child that you love them and that you have noticed certain things and that you want to help. It’s important to be non-judgmental and keep control of your own emotions. We all know that encouraging teens to open up to their parents is not the easiest thing in the world.
In an ideal world you’d sit down with a teen, talk through the problems and begin to work them out. You may, however, find that your teen denies there is anything wrong despite evidence to the contrary. Where do you go when this happens? You’re worried about your teen but they are not letting you in. It’s probably time then to make an appointment with your doctor.
Getting Professional Support
Make an appointment with your doctor and arrange for screening for depression. You’ll need a list of things that you have noticed and why you are worried so that you don’t forget anything during the consultation. The screening will include an examination and medical tests such as taking blood to rule out any physical cause.
If there are no medical problems, then the next stage will be to see a specialist such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. This will normally be someone with a background of child and adolescent mental health. It’s important to get your child’s input during this stage even if they are still in the denial stage. A lot depends on whether they get on or connect with a particular therapist and you may have to try several until you find a situation that works for you and them.
The first port of call for teenagers is usually talking therapy. This is used to explore how they feel and find ways to combat those low feelings. It’s normally a good option for mild depression and has a pretty good success rate. Don’t expect overnight success though, time will be needed to work through all the issues. In the meantime, you need to continue to give your full support.
Particularly with adolescents, medication is always a last resort. It may have to be used, however, if the depression is deep and there is risk of harm to the individual. Even then, medication is usually used in conjunction with some form of therapy.
Before agreeing to the use of antidepressants there are some things you will probably want to know. There are risks and side effects involved and these shouldn’t be taken lightly. One consideration is that the brain of your child is still developing and there are some clinicians who believe that administering antidepressants can damage this. There is also some research that says children with depression are more prone to suicidal thoughts if they are on these drugs. If there is no other option, then you need to make sure that your child is monitored properly and the antidepressants are used for no longer than they are useful.
Supporting a Teen with Treatment
Whether you are a teacher or a parent, supporting a teen who is being treated for depression is vital. This can be a long process and providing a safety net of understanding and encouragement can certainly help speed things up. There is a lot you can do, from learning more about depression to keeping a close eye on the treatment and how it is proceeding.
Taking Care of Yourself and the Family
While you have a depressed teenager on your hands, there’s probably a lot of other things you have to do as well, particularly if you have other kids. It’s a difficult balancing act but you should also make sure that you take care of yourself as well. That means eating properly and getting exercise, but also giving yourself breathing space when you need it.
While there might be plenty of help, compassion and support within your group of friends and family, there’s always good mileage in reaching out to support groups in your area. You’ll find a great source of valuable information as well as access to people who have been through the same thing as you and your teenager. Draw on all the resources you can and don’t be embarrassed about asking for help when you need it.
Teenage depression is a difficult problem to solve but with the right support, love, care and attention, you can work your way to the other side.