Adolescence is a difficult time. Most teenagers experience frequent bouts of moodiness. Depression, however, is a serious illness that affects a person’s thoughts, feelings, behavior and overall teen health. Family and friends of a depressed adolescent should help the teen seek treatment as soon as possible. A medical diagnosis from a mental health professional is the first step in the healing process.
Signs of Depression in Teenagers
Symptoms of teenage depression include:
- Acute sensitivity to rejection or failure
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Difficulty with relationships
- Discussion or thoughts of suicide
- Feelings of guilt
- Inability to concentrate
- Increased irritability, anger or hostility
- Loss of appetite or constant hunger
- Loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
- Low self-esteem
- Persistent boredom or fatigue
- Physical illnesses associated with stress (such as headache or stomachache)
- Regular episodes of sadness, tearfulness or crying
- Running away
- Self-injury or mutilation
- Social isolation, withdrawal
- Too little or too much sleep, increasing fatigue.
Causes of Teenage Depression
Low self-esteem is one cause of teen depression, but it isn’t necessarily the trigger for the disorder. Other risk factors for teenage depression include:
- Being abused or neglected as a child
- Having a chronic illness
- Having a family history of depression
- Having anxiety disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain conduct or learning disorders.
- Losing a parent or loved one
- Using certain medications.
There is evidence that teenage girls are at an especially high risk for depression. Others feel that boys suffer from the condition just as often, but less likely to speak up about their feelings, and are thus less likely to receive a medical diagnosis of depression.
What to Do if You See Signs of Teenage Depression
Depressed and suicidal teenagers often confide in their closest friends. Alert a parent, teacher or coach if you notice any of the following behaviors in a friend or classmate:
- Alcohol or drug use
- Cuts on arms or legs
- Rapid weight loss caused by refusing to eat or throwing up after meals
- Talk of suicide.
Feelings of guilt may arise, especially if the friend has trusted you with a secret. However, in the case of teenage depression, prompt treatment is important. Soften the blow by offering to go see a counselor or other adult along with your friend. Explain what you’ll say and how you’ll break the ice to get the conversation started. Assure your friend that you’re still going to be his friend, no matter what, but you can’t bear to see him suffering any more. If the friend refuses your help, tell an adult anyway. You could be saving a life.
Remember that depressed teens are often irritable, taking out much of their anger on their family and friends. They may attack others by being critical, sarcastic or abusive. Realize that deep anger is not just a side effect of adolescence â€” it’s one of the most common teenage depression symptoms. Seek the advice of a counselor to help you understand and develop strategies for dealing with the depressed teenager’s anger.
Bhatia, S.K. and Bhatia S.C. (2007). Childhood and adolescent depression. Retrieved April 30, 2010, from the American Academy of Family Physicians website: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0101/p73.html – afp20070101p73-t1.
Grohol, J.M. (2006). Teen depression symptoms. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from the Psych Central website: http://psychcentral.com/library/teen_depression_symptoms.htm.
Smith, M., Barston, S., Jaffe, J., Dumke, L.F. and Segal, J. (2007). Teen depression. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from the Help Guide website: http://helpguide.org/mental/depression_teen.htm.