5 signs of depression in teens
Most teens have intense, rapid-changing emotions, and many have brief episodes of depression at some time in their junior high or high school years. These heightened emotions can often be explained by hormonal changes, peer pressure, their strive for independence, and concern about how others perceive them. But long-term changes in mood and behavior can be a sign of something more serious. Depression is not something that can be overcome by willpower, but requires additional skills, usually developed through the help of a professional. Look for these signs in your teen to know if you need to seek additional help for them.
Loss of interest in activities once thought enjoyable
It’s typical for teens to change interests over time, but if your child suddenly stops participating in activities that they’ve always been interested in, and doesn’t replace them with new interests, it can be cause for concern. This can move beyond disinterest in enjoyable activities to lack of participation in everyday tasks. The DSM (or diagnostic and statistical manual for mental disorders) explains that those suffering from depression lose pleasure in activities for a period longer than two weeks.
Spending less time with friends and family
One significant sign of depression is how a depressed teen begins to interact with peers and family members. He or she may be especially irritable, become angry easily, and show more verbal and physical aggression. On the other end of the spectrum, depressed teens may become withdrawn and seclude themselves for long periods of time. Time spent interacting with people is often replaced with increased time on the computer or playing video games.
Declining school performance
Declining school performance is one of the first tangible signs of a child struggling with depression. This includes decreased effort on assignments, skipping class, and a lack of concern about their declining grades. Depression often causes an inability to concentrate, which also affects school performance. They may become oppositional toward teachers or other authority figures who encourage them to work, and easily stressed over ordinary tasks and assignments that they didn’t have trouble completing in the past. If a child has a job, the same symptoms can carry into their workplace.
Change in sleep and appetite
Depression is often associated with no desire to get out of bed and sleeping most the day. Although this is a common symptom of depression, sleep can also be affected in the opposite way, leading to insomnia. A significant increase or decrease in weight and appetite is also a sign of depression. You know your child best to determine if your child’s sleeping and eating habits have changed slightly due to normal circumstances, or if the changes are significant and prolonged, indicating that something more serious is going on.
Self-harm and/or suicidal thoughts
Self-harm is when someone physically hurts themselves on purpose. Some common examples are cutting, scratching, or burning. Attempted suicide is the most severe type of self-harm. If your child has shown these behaviors, remain calm and ask questions to gauge the severity of their thoughts. Do not overreact or become angry. This will push them further away from communicating and encourage them to hide their negative behaviors, which is the opposite of what you want. There are many reasons for why a teen may participate in self-harm such as the need to feel in control, to distract from overwhelming emotions, relieving guilt, or to avoid feeling numb. If you have noticed your child participating in self-harming behaviors, talk to them about the benefit they receive from harming themselves and help them replace the behavior. If your child has a plan for attempting suicide, seek help immediately, even if your child does not want help. Safety comes before the fear of offending your child when they are struggling with suicide ideation.
The good news is that most depression in teens can be improved by seeing a mental health professional. Occasionally a teen may need medication for a brief period of time, but it’s most important that they learn the skills to appropriately deal with their depression. Be supportive of their efforts and continue teaching skills and maintaining appropriate boundaries. Practice the skill of Effective Communication so your child feels comfortable coming to you when they need to express their emotions.
For more information on this topic read, Childhood depression. What does it look like? or visit our Depression information page.