Ask any parent what their most important job is, and they will tell you it’s protecting their children and keeping them safe in the world. New parents spend hours, if not days, preparing, by worrying, reading baby books and baby-proofing their homes. They research the best car seats, the best colleges, and the safest bike helmets, and often struggle to figure out ways to keep their kids safe online.
But, no matter how hard parents work to keep their kids safe, it can be very difficult to protect children against mental health issues such as depression. According to the US National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), Major Depressive Disorder affects roughly 11% of adolescents by age 18. A significant percentage indeed. Also if we look at depression like a continuum, it doesn’t take into account the number of teenagers that suffer from depression that doesn’t quite meet the level of clinical diagnosis.
In addition to the critical challenges of treating adolescents with the more severe symptoms of depression, depression has also been associated with the development of chronic health conditions, significant social/economic costs for society and a greatly reduced quality of life for the sufferer. Teenagers with depression often have a hard time getting their lives and careers started, and depression may be a big factor in their “failure to launch”. Sadly, and understandably, it’s probably really hard to “start your life” when you depression makes you feel empty and worthless and tells you that maybe life has no point.
If you are concerned and worried as to whether your own teen may be suffering from depression, here are 10 important signs to look for:
1. More than mood swings
Thanks to naturally rampaging hormones, it is quite normal for teenagers to experience mood swings. But those suffering from depression will often show excessive and more frequent swings of anger, sadness, self-doubt and irritability.
2. Academic problems
A drop in enthusiasm for school, struggling to maintain grades and even notes home from teachers can be a big signal that something is going on. Is your teen regularly getting to school late or cutting classes? Are there frequent absences from school?
3. Changes in social behaviour
Is your child spending less time out of the house with their friends? Do they have new friendships that seem negative or that you question? Are they spending more and more time alone and isolated? Changes in social behaviour are often a primary signal kids may be in trouble.
4. A lack/loss of interest in their favourite activities
Did your teen use to love playing sports or spend hours gaming, listening to music or drawing? Have they seemed to suddenly lose interest in these activities? If your child no longer shows interest in favourite hobbies and activities, this is an indicator that something may be wrong.
5. A Lack of Motivation
Granted, teenagers are not known for being highly-motivated, but those suffering from depression will show a marked decline in motivation and drive. Again, it’s important to look for changes in this area.
6. Lack of energy and feeling tired all the time.
Does your teen complain of having no energy to do anything, that they are “tired to the bone” or they have physical complaints like stomach or back pain? Again teenagers are sometimes known for being “lazy”, being tired and sleeping too much. But lack of energy and malaise can also be a definite sign of depression.
7. A change in sleep patterns, appetite or weight that has changed considerably
Diet changes like a lack of appetite, or binging on comfort foods can point to an issue. As does changes in sleep patterns which can be sleeping too much or having insomnia. Depression can affect appetite, eating and sleep patterns.
8. Restlessness, agitation (pacing, wringing hands, feeling like they can’t sit still)
Often depression can be displayed in agitation and irritability. Some sufferers describe it as having a motor inside them that continually runs on and on, not letting our mind or body rest.
9. Complaints of feeling guilty or worthless
Feelings of negativity and guilt, feeling like “everything is my fault’, ‘I am bad’, “I’m not good at anything” can point to the negative and flawed thinking that underlies and maintains depression.
10. A Family History of Depression
If you or someone else in your close family suffers from depression or other mental illness, there is an increased chance your teen may also suffer as well.
If you have noticed a few, or many of these signs in your teen, it’s important to seek help from a mental health therapist like a Psychologist. While you may want to, you can’t just love your child’s depression away. It’s often imperative to get professional help and an ongoing plan for treatment and management. There is a great deal of research showing that therapy works to heal depression and is probably the best first thing to try before things like antidepressant medications that may not be the best thing for your teenagers developing mind and body.
A therapist will be able to assess your teen for depression and provide them with treatment, including coping skills and tools for dealing and lessening the impact of the symptoms.