Warning Signs of Depression
Your teenage daughter has a tantrum screaming that no one understands her and that you, her loving parents, are ruining her life, making it not even worth living. Your teenage son tucks himself away in his room connected to technology barely surfacing to lay claim to food. How is a parent to know if these are the normal challenges of raising a teen or warning signs that depression is setting in, especially when it appears your child really has nothing to be depressed over?!
Identity formation can add stressors
The teen years bring about a number of physical and physiological changes, which bring with them mood swings and a quest for independence. Social acceptance from peers and forming an identity become developmental milestones that become, perhaps from a parent’s perspective, consuming. Identity formation is multifaceted and can add stressors that may go unnoticed.
While a teen begins to align sense of self with a particular label, with that label comes expectations…
- The athletes must maintain the grueling schedules
- The academic must maintain the 4.0
- Sexual identity may be questioned
- Religious beliefs may be questioned
- Future career or academic paths loom ahead
. . .and the list continues, all adding to the pressures teens face each day.
Helping Prevent Teen Depression
It is easy enough to Google symptoms of teen depression, which has quite a good explanation, but how does a parent be preventative first and know when to seek support second? Sooner than later is the best rule of thumb, especially given the threat of suicide which is all too real. What is a parent to do?
As prevention, begin to view the teen years as a time for safe exploration of decision making and learning cause and effect. Teens need to believe you have faith in their ability to make choices as well as accept the consequences of their actions. Often parents become hyper guarded at a time when they really need to start letting go. Set boundaries, curfews and expectations with a loving acceptance that such rules are meant to be challenged. Accept that teens will make mistakes. Allow them to figure out how to make things better or solve their problems. Allow them to feel emotional pain, disappointment and exclusion. It’s when these things happen that they need you the most, not as the prevention police.
Listen. Reflect. Support. Share
Teens need empathy, understanding and someone to listen and encourage as they learn to move through the challenges of life to learn the skills they will eventually need as adults. Do not solve their problems for them; have faith that they know what to do, even if they don’t think they do. Look at mistakes as an opportunity for them to learn in the safety of your guardianship rather than once they are out on their own. Tell them you believe in them and their ability to find solutions on their own. Even when you are begging to say “I told you so!,” hold your tongue and respond with an empathetic statement such as “You seem so disappointed in yourself . . . What do you think you’re going to do now?” Listen. Reflect. Support. Share air. Acknowledge the humanness of their actions. Let them know that its not the failure as much as what comes next that matters. Help the teen figure out whom they want to be.
Signs of Depression in Adolescents
- Complaints of pains, including headaches, stomachaches, low back pain, or fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions
- Excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Irresponsible behavior, (e.g., forgetting obligations, being late for classes, skipping school)
- Loss of interest in food or compulsive overeating that results in rapid weight loss or gain
- Memory loss
- Preoccupation with death and dying
- Rebellious behavior
- Sadness, anxiety, or a feeling of hopelessness
- Staying awake at night and sleeping during the day
- Sudden drop in grades
- Use of alcohol or drugs and promiscuous sexual activity
- Withdrawal from friends
Trust your parental instincts
Teens have so many expectations placed upon them in this era; pressures from all sides pushing and pulling for them to be something in the moment and the future. Accept the few days they tumble and withdraw, scream and cry, but become concerned when the teen you know and love doesn’t bounce back within a week or so. Provide space, yet check in. Trust that parental voice that says “something is off,” and if you can’t figure out what, seek professional support. Look for changes in hygiene, eating habits, motivation and zest for life. Take note when your extrovert becomes sullen and your introvert is suddenly full of energy. Be direct in asking about drugs, alcohol and thoughts of suicide. Be direct, yet concerned. Be calm. Listen to the behavior, rather than the words, as words are easy to fake. Err on the side of caution, as a life is not something you want to wait on to see what happens.
WFAA-TV Dallas: Talking to Teens About Depression
A Dallas teenager opens up about her experience with depression and what she did about it. Includes a live interview with Dr. Kay Trotter on the Dallas morning news program Daybreak – WFAA-TV, Channel 8.