You notice teenager seems to be very moody, moodier than usual. They seem to be isolating from their friends, sleeping all the time, not eating, and losing interest in the things that use to excite them. They talk about being worthless and guilty when they choose to talk at all. School performance drops, they have difficulty concentrating and may even be expressing thoughts of death and suicide.
Your teenager may be showing the warning signs of depression. And depression in teens can be a serious situation, which parents need to be aware of and provide family support or even seek out the help of a teen therapist.
One of the best ways to get in touch with what teens are depressed about is for parents to remember what it was like to be a teen growing up and trying to figure out life. Those feelings of social awkwardness, low self-esteem, dealing with a changing body, and the pressure of grades can all generate a certain level of depression.
Then there are more personal experiences such as the death of a friend, relative, or family member, a breakup, moving cities or changing schools, and trying to define issues of sexuality that can lead to even deeper levels of depression.
Although it is normal for a teen to go through mood swings and occasional sadness, a prolonged period of sadness, decline in energy, changes in sleep patterns and eating habits, loss of interest in activities, and isolation from friends and family can all be warning signs that something more serious is going on.
It is important for parents to realize that depression can affect a teenager regardless of race, income, upbringing, gender, or education and left unattended to can effect teens for extended periods of time.
Depression impacts teen by interfering with their ability to connect into their world and relate to the people and experiences around them. It can lead to:
- Challenges at school – lack of energy and low concentration from depression can lead to poor grades, frustration with doing homework, and a lack of interest in learning
- Risk taking behaviors – which can manifest as reckless driving, late nights partying, and unsafe sex
- Self injury or suicide – when very little seems okay in their world the temptation of cutting, self- mutilation, and even suicide can seem like the only answer
- Substance abuse – Drugs and alcohol can seem like an easy road to make the bad feelings go away
- Violent behavior – often self hatred will be redirected and manifest as violence towards others and property
Many of these activities can lead to even more isolation, which makes the depressed teenager feel even more misunderstood and alone.
It is important for a parent to be comfortable with talking with their teenager about the intense feelings that come up when depression is present in their teen’s life. Rather than talking down to their teens parents should validate the feelings that are being expressed and simply acknowledge the sadness and pain that is being shared.
Try to listen to your teen without feeling you have to solve the issues at hand. Having a place to share where there are not criticized or judged can make a teen feel heard. It is not always necessary to have a solution; in fact sometime it is fine just to be a safe haven for sharing.
Although your teen may be resistant to sharing what’s going on, if you feel that things are serious enough, don’t give up. Share that this is a tough conversation for you as well but that you are there to give them a place to unburden their fears and doubts.
It is not necessary to ask a ton of questions or even grill your teen during these conversations. Instead provide clear and steady support. Be willing to be helpless and provide whatever reassurance they may need.
That support can often come in working with a therapist or counselor who specializes in working with teens. Having a trained professional who has the knowledge and experience to assist both the teen and their family is vital in finding the path out of depression.