Depression in teenagers is a serious medical condition that can lead to substance abuse and addiction, poor performance at school, acting out violently, self-harm, risky sexual behaviors, suicide attempts and even suicide. One in five teenagers suffers from depression at some point, and suicide is the third most common cause of death among teens.
Depressed teens may exhibit a range of symptoms including extreme sadness, unexplained crying, changes in sleep patterns, anxiety, irritability and anger. They may develop problems with authority, withdraw from many of their friends and social activities, have trouble concentrating, begin eating differently and lose or gain weight. Additional symptoms of teen depression include feelings of helplessness, guilt, worthlessness, apathy and low self-esteem.
What do you do if you suspect that your teen, or another adolescent in your life, may be suffering from depression? The first step is to get the teen to open up about how they’re feeling and make them feel that you support and care for them. Then you can work on getting the teen some professional help. The good news is that depression is treatable — for mild to moderate teen depression, outpatient therapy is usually sufficient, although for more serious cases of depression, a stay at a rehab for depression may be necessary.
Get Your Depressed Teen to Open Up About His Feelings
If you suspect that a teen in your life is suffering from depression, it’s important that you coax them into confiding their feelings. That way, you can confirm that what your teen is experiencing is depression, and not another problem. Either way, opening up is the first step on the journey to health.
It can be difficult to get teens to open up about their feelings, especially when those feelings are difficult. Your teen may be embarrassed or ashamed of the way he’s feeling. She may lack the communication skills to properly express her feelings. Some teens may not be aware that they’re depressed; they may be so deeply in denial that they’re completely out of touch with their depressed feelings and can’t make the connection between their behaviors and their emotional and mental state.
Don’t Drive Your Teen Away
When talking to your depressed teen, be especially careful not to alienate, patronize or smother him. Share your concerns with your teenager, but refrain from judging or blaming. Let your teen know you’re there and you want to help, but try not to ask too many questions, as this can make teens feel overwhelmed. If your teen doesn’t want to talk at first, don’t give up. Gentle persistence will pay off.
When your teen does open up, don’t criticize or offer unsolicited advice. Don’t give ultimatums and don’t try to use logic to talk your teen out of his feelings. Instead, acknowledge and validate your teen’s emotions, no matter how little sense they may make to you.
Get Your Teen Help
Depression is a very treatable condition. Seek help for your teen from a psychologist or psychiatrist, but make sure you get feedback from your teen about any professional you choose. If your teen doesn’t like or get along with his therapist, for whatever reason, treatment will be ineffective. Take your teen’s concerns seriously and seek another professional if necessary.
Support Your Teen Throughout Treatment
Your teen will continue to need your support during treatment. Get involved with your child’s treatment, making sure you discuss all treatment options with the depression specialist. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of talk therapy that teaches people to recognize and change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. It’s an effective treatment for depression.
Some teens may also require medication to treat their depression. Antidepressants can help your teen feel better, but they also carry an increased risk of suicide when used in young people under the age of 24. Watch your teen for signs of suicidal thoughts, especially during the first two months of taking medication. These can include:
- New or worse feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability or thoughts of suicide
- Violence, aggression or anger
- Panic attacks
- Trouble sleeping
- Unusual or extreme changes in behavior
Make sure your teen follows all of her treatment instructions. Encourage her to spend time with friends and take part in physical activities — even less strenuous activities like walking can help fight depression. Most of all, try to be understanding of your teen during this time.
All teens are emotional and moody at times, but depression goes much deeper than typical teenage angst. If you think a teen in your life might be depressed, offer your emotional support and help him get professional treatment. With professional help and time, your teen can overcome depression.
About the Author: Continuing blogger Dr. Natalie Strom is a clinical psychologist who has devoted more than 20 years to treating depressed teens in her private practice.