Teenagers and Depression

Teenage depression isn’t just the occasional bad mood or emotional outburst – it’s a serious illness that can have an enormously negative impact on many aspects of a teenager’s life[i]. You may be a parent of a teenage son or daughter, know a teenager or be a teenager yourself. In this blog, we are going to investigate the telltale signs and symptoms of teenage depression, how to offer help to a teenager who is struggling, and the wide range of treatment options.

The Signs and Symptoms:

Depression can have negative effects on a teenager’s physical health, emotions and behaviours. The following symptoms may indicate that there is something wrong, especially if they persist for more than two weeks[ii]:

Physical Symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Crying
  • Insomnia
  • Loss in appetite/weight loss
  • General muscle pain
  • Headache/migraine
  • Weakened immune system/ increased susceptibility to colds and flu

Emotional Symptoms:

  • Sadness and hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Anger and rage
  • Feelings of being unable to satisfy ideals
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Low self-worth
  • Suicidal thoughts

Behavioural Symptoms:

  • Trouble concentrating at school
  • Indecision and forgetfulness
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Substance abuse
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Sexually promiscuous behaviours

How You Can Help a Teenager in Distress:

When parents observe that their son or daughter is experiencing anxiety and/or depression, many thoughts can arise such as – “I have failed as a parent” or “I don’t understand, they have everything in the world!!”. Many parents find themselves getting angry especially when a teenagers thoughts and feelings seem irritating and unreasonable[iii]. Many parents try to solve the problem and when that doesn’t work, they get angry. Teenage years are some of the most difficult for a human being and it is very normal to experience tough times during these developing years.

Raising your concerns with a teenager in your life whom you suspect is experiencing any of the above symptoms of anxiety and depression can be difficult, however it is important to speak up and offer love and support right away[iv]. Even if depression is not the problem, it still needs to be addressed. It is important to approach the teenager in a loving and non-judgmental way and let him or her know the specific signs and symptoms you have a noticed, and why they are a concern to you[v]. Then encourage them to share what they are going through. This process can be difficult for everyone, and many teenagers will deny that there is anything wrong due to embarrassment, being afraid of being misunderstood and not believing that what they are experiencing is depression[vi].

Here are some tips to helping a teenager who is anxious or depressed:

1) Offer support:

  • Let the teenager know that you care about them and are concerned
  • Offer support fully and unconditionally
  • Try not to overcrowd them with questions – be slow and steady
  • Do not patronize

2) Be gentle but persistent:

  • Talking about depression/anxiety with a teenager can be confronting for them – don’t give up if the first conversation fails[vii]
  • Emphasize that what they are going through is common among teenagers
  • Be open and willing to listen[viii]

3) Listen without lecturing:

  • Even if you do not agree with your teenager, resist the temptation to pass judgment or criticize[ix]
  • No one, no matter what age likes to be lectured. If someone is going through a tough time, be there and listen to them
  • Avoid ultimatums[x]

4) Validate feelings:

  • Acknowledge the pain and sad emotions the teenager is experiencing even if they appear unreasonable or irritating – if you don’t, they will assume you are not taking them seriously[xi]

Treatment:

Depression is serious illness and if left untreated, can worsen to the point of becoming life threatening[xii]. If a teenager in your life remains closed off and refuses to accept that there is something wrong, it may be necessary to seek professional advice from a GEneral Practitioner or therapist[xiii]. Information and/or therapy can help teenagers understand the causes of their depression and learn strategies to cope with stressful situations. The use of anti-depressant medications may be necessary to reduce the depression symptoms and emotions, and can be prescribed by a GP or Psychiatrist[xiv]. Care is always needed in this age group with medications, and therapy is always tried first.

Some of the most common and effective ways to treat depression in adolescents are:

1) Psychotherapy: provides teens an opportunity to explore events and feelings that are painful or troubling to them. Psychotherapy also teaches them coping skills[xv]

2) Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT): helps teenagers to identify negative patterns of thinking and behaviour and replace them with more helpful thoughts/behaviours

3) Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): An increasingly popular mindfulness-based therapy which encourages a person to accept what is out of their control and commit to action that improves/enriches their life[xvi]

4) Interpersonal therapy: focuses on how to develop healthier relationships at home and at school[xvii]

5) Medication: relieves some symptoms of depression and is often prescribed along with therapy[xviii]

When adolescents with depression come to realise that they need help, they have taken a major step toward recovery[xix]. However, it is important to remember that very few teenagers will seek help on their own. This is why it is vital that they are supported by their friends and if needed, encouraged to seek help and follow treatment recommendations from health professionals.

References:

[i] “Parents Guide to Teen Depression”. Melinda Smith & Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last Updated March 2016. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/teen-depression-signs-help.htm.

[ii] “Depression in Teens”. Mental Health America. Last Updated March 2016. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-teens.

[iii] “Parents Guide to Teen Depression”. Melinda Smith & Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last Updated March 2016. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/teen-depression-signs-help.htm.

[iv] ibid

[v] “8 Tips for Parents of Teens with Depression”. Live Science. Last Updated 2016.http://www.livescience.com/45206-teens-depression-signs-tips-parents.html.

[vi] “Parents Guide to Teen Depression”. Melinda Smith & Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last Updated March 2016. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/teen-depression-signs-help.htm.

[vii] ibid

[viii] ibid

[ix] ibid

[x] ibid

[xi] ibid

[xii] “Depression in Teens”. Mental Health America. Last Updated March 2016. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-teens.

[xiii] ibid

[xiv] ibid

[xv] ibid

[xvi] “Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Training”. Russ Harris. Last Updated 2016. http://www.actmindfully.com.au/acceptance_&_commitment_therapy.

[xvii] “Depression in Teens”. Mental Health America. Last Updated March 2016. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-teens.

[xviii] ibid

[xix] “Parents Guide to Teen Depression”. Melinda Smith & Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last Updated March 2016. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/teen-depression-signs-help.htm.

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