Teens are known for being sullen, emotional, and withdrawn. But how do you know when their mood swings have taken a turn for the worse, and their erratic behavior is actually a cry for help?
Teen depression is a serious problem. The statistics are scary. Seventy percent of teens will have one episode of depression before adulthood; about 20% to 40% will experience it one every two years. Left untreated, teen depression that can lead to drug-abuse, abusive relationships, self-hatred and even violence and suicide. Here’s how to know if your child has problem.
1. Teen depression is not just ‘teen angst’
While all teens will mope and wrestle with their feelings (triggered by a normal search for identity, and heightened by hormones), the lucky ones are able to find a positive ‘anchor.’ This can be understanding family and friends, a sense of fulfillment from activities they enjoy, and a solid self-esteem.
Others are sucked into their emotions, and the despair and anger can eat at their personality and lead them to shut out other people when they need support the most.
2. Teen Depression does not look like Adult Depression
Adult depression is typically manifested as deep sadness. Teen depression is far more complex. Studies show that teens are more likely to be irritable, aggressive, or angry. In fact, they may seem just ‘grumpy,’ due to sudden temper outbursts or extreme sensitivity. A single comment can set them into tears—or cause them to storm upstairs.
They may also hide depression under a façade of cheerfulness or cool disinterest. They may give up old activities and explain that ‘oh, it’s just not my thing’ or cut off ties with old friends and refuse to take all calls from them. And while adult depression often is characterized by total withdrawal from other people, teens will still seek the company of others. However, they may choose a totally different crowd, and are particularly susceptible to joining gangs, cults or fraternities.
They can complain of being tired and have no motivation and enthusiasm—easily mistaken for ‘laziness’ by teachers and parents. They can also appear restless and agitated, unable to concentrate not just in school but at home.
3. Trust your instincts.
It can be difficult for parents to interpret these signals (in fact, only 20% of cases of teen depression are diagnosed and treated). However, you know your child best, and can observe him far more intimately than a teacher or guidance counselor. Ask yourself: 1) What symptoms are present? 2) How intense are they? 3) How long has it been going on? And 4) What triggered this episode?
4. Look for signs of poor self-image.
Teen depression is rooted in poor self-image. Your child thinks he is worthless and his future is hopeless; he may feel like the world is against him or that he is all alone and unloved. That’s why he pushes away people (to avoid further rejection), reacts to criticism (which magnifies his pain) and gives up on school and activities (he doesn’t see the point, since he’ll fail).
5. Don’t confuse the symptoms with the cause.
Teen depression can make your child more susceptible to other problems: excessive dieting, poor grades, bad relationships, difficulty keeping a job, aggression (which can lead to getting kicked out of schools for misconduct), shoplifting, drug abuse.
Many parents and adults will zero in on those problems without addressing the emotional cause. They’ll transfer the teen to another school, or give up entirely and let him drop out and shift aimlessly from one odd job to another. Or, they’ll blame the teen’s friends for being a ‘bad influence’ and forbid him from meeting up with them again.
It’s best to seek professional counseling and solve the problem from the inside out, to prevent the problem from escalating or being suppressed for years—haunting your child’s choices and self-image for years. When in doubt, get help and find out as much as you can on teen depression from support organizations and websites like suescheff.org.