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The teen years can be extremely tough and depression affects teenagers far more often than many of us realize. However, while depression is highly treatable, most depressed teens never receive help. Teen depression goes beyond moodiness. Your love, guidance, and support can go a long way toward helping your teen overcome depression and get their life back on track. Help is available—and you have more power over your mood than you may think. No matter how despondent life seems right now, there are many things you can do to change your mood and start feeling better today.
While occasional bad moods or acting out is to be expected during the teenage years, depression is something different.
The negative effects of teenage depression go far beyond a melancholy mood. Many rebellious and unhealthy behaviors or attitudes in teenagers can be indications of depression. Teen depression is also associated with a number of other mental health problems, including eating disorders and self-injury. While depression can cause tremendous pain for your teen—and disrupt everyday family life—there are plenty of things you can do to help your child start to feel better. The first step is to learn what teen depression looks like and what to do if you spot the warning signs.
Unlike adults, who have the ability to seek assistance on their own, teenagers rely on parents, teachers, or other caregivers to recognize their suffering and get them the help they need. Instead, irritability, anger, and agitation may be the most prominent symptoms. Depression in teens can look very different from depression in adults. The following symptoms are more common in teenagers than in their adult counterparts:.
Irritable or angry mood. As noted, irritability, rather than sadness, is often the predominant mood in depressed teens. A depressed teenager may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated, or prone to angry outbursts. Unexplained aches and pains. Depressed teens frequently complain about physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches.
If a thorough physical exam does not reveal a medical cause, these aches and pains may indicate depression. Extreme sensitivity to criticism. Depressed teens are plagued by feelings of worthlessness, making them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection, and failure. Withdrawing from some, but not all people. While adults tend to isolate themselves when depressed, teenagers usually keep up at least some friendships. However, teens with depression may socialize less than before, pull away from their parents, or start hanging out with a different crowd.
Hormones and stress can explain the occasional bout of teenage angst—but not continuous and unrelenting unhappiness, lethargy, or irritability. If you suspect that a teenager is suicidal, take immediate action! For hour suicide prevention and support in the U. To find a suicide helpline outside the U. To learn more about suicide risk factors, warning signs, and what to do in a crisis, read Suicide Prevention. If you suspect that your teen is depressed, bring up your concerns in a loving, non-judgmental way. Focus on listening, not lecturing.
Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. Be gentle but persistent. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Acknowledge their feelings. Simply acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel understood and supported.
Trust your gut. If your teen claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation for what is causing the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts. The important thing is to get them talking to someone. Depressed teens tend to withdraw from their friends and the activities they used to enjoy. But isolation only makes depression worse, so do what you can to help your teen reconnect.
Make face time a priority. Combat social isolation. Do what you can to keep your teen connected to others. Encourage them to go out with friends or invite friends over.
Participate in activities that involve other families and give your child an opportunity to meet and connect with other kids. Get your teen involved. While your teen may lack motivation and interest at first, as they reengage with the world, they should start to feel better and regain their enthusiasm. Promote volunteerism.
Doing things for others is a powerful antidepressant and self-esteem booster. If you volunteer with them, it can also be a good bonding experience. Physical and mental health are inextricably connected. Depression is exacerbated by inactivity, inadequate sleep, and poor nutrition.
Unfortunately, teens are known for their unhealthy habits: staying up late, eating junk food, and spending hours on their phones and devices. But as a parent, you can combat these behaviors by establishing a healthy, supportive home environment. Get your teen moving! Exercise is absolutely essential to mental health , so get your teen active—whatever it takes. Set limits on screen time. Teens often go online to escape their problems, but when screen time goes up, physical activity and face time with friends goes down.
Both are a recipe for worsening symptoms. Provide nutritious, balanced meals. Make sure your teen is getting the nutrition they need for optimum brain health and mood support: things like healthy fats , quality protein , and fresh produce.
Encourage plenty of sleep. Teens need more sleep than adults to function optimally—up to hours per night. No one therapist is a miracle worker, and no one treatment works for everyone. Talk therapy is often a good initial treatment for mild to moderate cases of depression. Unfortunately, some parents feel pushed into choosing antidepressant medication over other treatments that may be cost-prohibitive or time-intensive. In all cases, antidepressants are most effective when part of a broader treatment plan.
Antidepressants were designed and tested on adults, so their impact on young, developing brains is not yet fully understood. Some researchers are concerned that exposure to drugs such as Prozac may interfere with normal brain development—particularly the way the brain manages stress and regulates emotion.
Antidepressants also come with risks and side effects of their own , including a number of safety concerns specific to children and young adults. They are also known to increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in some teenagers and young adults.
Teens with bipolar disorder , a family history of bipolar disorder, or a history of previous suicide attempts are particularly vulnerable. The risk of suicide is highest during the first two months of antidepressant treatment. Teenagers on antidepressants should be closely monitored for any sign that the depression is getting worse. Be understanding. Living with a depressed teenager can be difficult and draining.
At times, you may experience exhaustion, rejection, despair, aggravation, or any other number of negative emotions. Your teen is suffering, so do your best to be patient and understanding. Stay involved in treatment. Be patient. Rejoice in small victories and prepare for the occasional setback.
As a parent, you may find yourself focusing all your energy and attention on your depressed teen and neglecting your own needs and the needs of other family members. Above all, this means reaching out for much needed support. Having your own support system in place will help you stay healthy and positive as you work to help your teen.
Reach out to friends, join a support group, or see a therapist of your own. Look after your health. Be open with the family. Kids know when something is wrong. When left in the dark, their imaginations will often jump to far worse conclusions. Be open about what is going on and invite your children to ask questions and share their feelings.
Remember the siblings. Siblings may need special individual attention or professional help of their own to handle their feelings about the situation. Avoid the blame game. About Teen Suicide — Risk factors, warnings signs, and how to get help.