Being a teenager isn’t a walk in the park. We tend to think that teens have it easy and that, at their age, there’s not much to worry about. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Teens face an enormous amount of pressure, and the number of depressed teens is much higher than you might think.
Depression among teens is very serious and much more common than most people expect. If you suspect your teen is depressed, they’re truly not alone. On average, 11 percent of all US teens reported a major depressive episode in 2013. And, in Canada, a third (or 34 percent) of all teens reported “elevated levels of psychological distress” in 2015.
It’s hard enough trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in the world. Add social media and peer pressure on top of it, and it becomes clear that teens these days are living in a much different world than they were even ten years ago. While all teens face some angst from time to time, if you suspect your teen has clinical depression, it’s important to know what’s normal…and what’s not.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression Among Teens
It can be difficult to differentiate between normal teenage moodiness and actual teenage depression. Knowing what to look for in your teen’s behavior can help you better understand what he or she might be going through.
Recognizing depression isn’t the easiest thing to do (especially when it comes to teenagers), but knowing what depression among adolescents looks like can definitely help.
Some of the most common signs of teen depression include the following:
- Fatigue/Lack of Energy
- Variations in Sleeping Habits
- Frequent Crying
- Distancing Oneself from Friends and Family
- Loss of Interest in Favorite Activities
- Poor Performance in School
- Lack of Motivation
- Low Enthusiasm
- Thoughts or Threats of Suicide
Moodiness and changes in behavior are normal for all teenagers. It’s when you begin to notice continual changes in behavior, action, mood and personality that you might be looking at something more serious than typical teen angst.
Depression among teens not only affects their teenage years but can also put them at risk for depression later on in life. And it makes the teen years that are already hard enough much more difficult to handle. Depression can cause grades to fall and performance at school to suffer. Many teens with depression may drop out of school altogether and completely change their course of life.
Teens with depression also tend to have more difficulty adapting to various social situations. They might refuse to be involved in activities that were once a part of normal life. Depression among teens may also cause them to quit sports teams or clubs they’ve been involved with.
The risks of suicide among teens with depression are something to take seriously. While not all cases of teen depression will end in suicide, there is a growing number of successful teenage suicide attempts. Depression is one of the leading causes of teenage suicide and poses a very real threat to teens who feel that they’ve no other choice.
What Causes Depression Among Teens?
There are a variety of different reasons why teenagers experience depression. Teens today live in a much more complicated world than ever before, and a number of different factors and circumstances are responsible for triggering depression among teens. Some of the most common causes include
- Low self-esteem,
- High Stress,
- Physical/Sexual/Mental Abuse,
- Problems in School (either academically or socially),
- Peer Pressure,
- Chronic Illness,
- Learning Disabilities, or
- Drug or Alcohol Abuse.
Tips for Helping Your Depressed Teen
If you suspect your teen is depressed, it’s important to recognize it immediately. If left untreated, depression among teens could do irreparable damage. Trying to help your teen by approaching him or her in an open and non-judgmental manner is important, as is letting them know that you’re there to support them any way you can.
Don’t Disregard Their Feelings
You may think you know your child better than anyone, but it’s impossible to know the extent of his or her feelings and emotions. Even if you think the way you teen feels is completely illogical, don’t discredit it. Your teen needs to feel supported, and your understanding of the way he or she feels (without judgment) is vital.
Encourage and Create Social Connection
A big part of depression among teens is withdrawing from social situations. Be sure to have some sort of one-on-one time with your teen each day, and be sure to do what you can to encourage him or her to hang out with others. Isolation is the last thing a depressed teen needs. If you can’t get your teen to spend time with others at first, consider taking him or her to a movie or museum. Getting your teen out and into the world is key to helping him or her overcome isolation.
Offer Healthy Food Choices
The way we eat has a lot to do with the way we feel both physically and mentally. Most teens thrive on junk food and don’t give a second thought to their food choices. A diet high in processed foods and sugar, however, can actually make depressive symptoms worse. Offer your teen food that will enhance his or her mood not make it worse. Lots of greens, fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and omega 3 fats are excellent for supporting mood and encouraging better brain function.
Urge Teens to Exercise and Engage in Physical Activity
Exercise is one of the best ways to lift depression and is seriously essential in maintaining positive emotional and mental health. Do whatever it takes to get your teen up and moving. Teenagers should be physically active at least an hour a day, every day. Make evening family walks a priority, go hiking, spend a day at the beach, go to the batting cages, go bowling or to the driving range. Making sure your teen is physically active is one of the best things you can do to help him or her manage depression.
Seek Professional Help if Necessary
Trying to help your teen make positive changes is helpful, but it doesn’t always work. If depression doesn’t get better with your teen (or you notice symptoms getting worse) despite the attempts you’ve made to make things better, it could be time to seek professional help. The school counselor is a good place to start and can often recommend a mental health care professional who has experience working with teenagers.
More teens are experiencing depression than ever before, and if you feel your teen is one of them, it’s important to address the issue before it gets worse. It’s also very important to take care of yourself and let go of any guilt you might be carrying. Don’t blame yourself as it will only make things more difficult to deal with.
Knowing that depression among teens is common offers some relief that you (or your teen) are not going through this alone. Do you or someone you know have a teen who is depressed or has experienced depression in the past? How about a teen who has overcome depression? We’d love to hear about any tips you have for other parents who are struggling to find ways to help their teen make it through their troubled times.