4 Signs of Depression in Teens and How to Help
The teenage years can be full of highs and lows. For many adolescents, moving from childhood into their teen years means they have more freedom to choose, a greater level of independence, and a wider network of friendships
On the other hand, teens often struggle with managing new schedules and responsibilities, making sense of friendships that waver from week to week, discovering more of their own sense of purpose and identity, and navigating the pressures and influences of social media, pop culture, and societal expectations. When you then add the stress, uncertainty, and isolation that the pandemic has caused, it could be safe to say that it is harder than ever before to be a teen.
4 Signs of Depression in Teens
Every teen will struggle to some extent with the above stressors (and others associated with adolescence), and it is the job of the parent to guide and support their teen through it all. As a parent, it can be difficult to determine the nature of your child’s struggles. So, how do you know if your teen is simply in a bad mood or if he is struggling with depression? Here are four signs to help you identify depression in teens, and how you can help them.
Your teen has struggled with loss of interest in hobbies and/or activities he once enjoyed, it’s lasted more than two weeks, and he is not replacing the lost hobby with something new.
It is common for a teenager to not want to go to work one afternoon because he is tired. Or it may be fine for your teen daughter to drop her usual dance class because she must study for a big exam this week. However, if you notice your teenager quitting activities, not showing up for practice, and/or disengaging from friends for more than two weeks – or more often than usual – it may be a sign of depression.
Because it’s common for teens to go through emotional difficulties, and because teenagers tend to withdraw naturally from their parents, you may not be aware of their actual emotions. So, you may need to keep an eye on their participation in the things they once enjoyed.
Telling friends “no thanks” when she is asked to attend a celebration or go for pizza after school isn’t a sign of depression; however, if this avoidance of friends becomes consistent, it could be that your child is struggling with something more than just a need for occasional solitude.
The teenager in your life has had a significant weight change in a short amount of time and is spending more time alone or more time sleeping than usual.
It is true that all teens need significant rest. Their bodies are changing so much during this stage that additional sleep is necessary as they grow into adolescence. However, if you notice that your teen is staying in bed longer than usual, taking naps, sleeping in place of other activities, or struggling to fall asleep consistently at night, he or she may be struggling with a mood disorder and/or depression.
The same can be said of weight changes. Growing bodies tend to increase a teen’s appetite. However, rapid onset of weight gain or weight loss can be cause for concern. Food intake can be a way that a teenager deals with feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, or insecurity. While these feelings are normal for teens, if they are interfering with their health and/or enjoyment of activities in everyday life, it could be time to seek out a counselor’s help.
Depression in teens isn’t always a result of life changes. We tend to look for problems when there is a death in the family or a divorce, but teen depression can show up at any time and you may not always see a causal event. So, paying attention to your teen’s “normal” is a good idea.
Your teen has experienced repeated conflict with a family member or a friend at work and/or school.
As adults, we have had many more opportunities to learn to face conflict than teens have. Most likely, you have learned listening and resolution skills that help you discern how to handle interpersonal turmoil.
When teens go through relationship struggles, they may not have adequate coping skills to help them sort through their emotions, how their friend is responding to the situation, and/or how to begin the healing process. If these emotions persist, they can develop into depression in teens.Making sure your teen participates in an activity where he or she has the support of another trusted adult can help. While a teen may not go to his or her parents with relationship struggles, he or she might go to a church youth leader, a coach, or a drama teacher. Encouraging your child to join something he or she enjoys can be a way to put safe, trustworthy adult influences in his life so that, when a relational conflict arises, he has someone to go to outside of the home.
How do you help if you’ve already seen signs of depression due to relational conflict? Scheduling an initial consultation with a counselor can help you talk about the changes you’ve seen in your teens. The counselor should be able to give you sound advice about whether your teen may need additional intervention.
You can tell your teen is struggling in multiple domains of life – school, home, and friendships.
If your child has expressed an attitude of hopelessness or seems down and unmotivated in multiple areas of life, he or she may be showing signs of depression and need help from a professional therapist. An isolated friendship struggle does not mean your child will develop depression.
However, when that struggle influences his home life, his schoolwork, and his ability to function in extracurricular activities, you may need to step in and ask some questions to help him identify what’s going on inside.
Questions you might ask include:
- What is causing you stress or anxiety right now? (Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand.)
- How long have you felt concerned about that? (This question allows you to gauge the duration of your teen’s negative emotions).
- Who are you talking to – if anyone – about how you feel? (Knowing your teen’s friends is an important part of helping her navigate relational conflict).
- How do you spend your time outside of school? (This can help you identify if he is spending time on activities he has always enjoyed or not).
- What kind of phone and tech boundaries do you have in place for yourself? (Spending excess time on technology can exacerbate emotional struggles. But tread lightly here – you don’t want your teen to feel that he or she is in trouble for experiencing feelings of depression).
- What activities bring you the most enjoyment or fun? (Listening to your teen’s answers helps him or her to know that you care).
A simple check-in, while you are driving somewhere or working on a project at home together, can be revolutionary for a teenager. Several of these types of questions can be asked in one sitting, or you might find that it makes more sense to weave them into your natural conversations.
Either way, asking these questions helps not only in the assessment of your child’s well-being, but also in communicating that you deeply care about her and are available to be a supportive presence. As a parent, your best resources are paying attention, asking non-threatening questions within organic conversations, and being ready and willing to ask for help when needed.
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