Many of the parents that I see often wonder what is and isn’t normal teenage behavior. They sit in my office and try to make sense of the most recent argument that they have had with their teen. They wonder how on earth their teenager can sleep until noon on a Saturday and cannot for the life of them figure out the patterns or the causes of their teens good and bad moods. Teenagers face a variety of pressures and stresses. As they enter Jr. High they are adapting to an entirely new way of learning and socializing. Often times their group of friends are changing and the teens naturally wonder where they fit in as they are trying to figure out who they really are. Beyond the natural biological changes of puberty, teenagers are also dealing with the pressures of getting good grades, maybe dealing with high stress family issues, or struggling with feeling accepted in their social circles. So, what is normal and what is depression?
Teen depression goes beyond moodiness. It’s a serious health problem that is estimated to affect one in five adolescents from all walks of life. Between 10-15% of these teens suffer from symptoms at any one time, and sadly only 30% of depressed teens are being treated for it. A depressed teenager’s entire life is impacted. The depression can affect their self-esteem, their family and social relationships, their overall health and their ability to function in everyday life. Many times, the teenager has just not learned how to cope or handle the new set of emotions and feelings that they are feel as their bodies are changing and as they are starting to face real daily stresses and pressures. Rather than seeking support and help from their family and friends they become withdrawn, anxious, and sad. They begin to act out in an attempt to cope with their emotional pain. If depression isn’t treated or addressed it can destroy the essence of your teen’s personality causing them to feel an overwhelming sense of sadness, despair, anger and disappointment. Below is a list of signs and symptoms to look for in your teen if you think that they may be struggling with depression:
• Irritability or hostility
• frequent crying
• Withdrawal from friends/family
• Loss of interest in activities
• Poor school performance
• Changes in eating and sleeping habits
• Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
• Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
• Lack of energy
• Difficulty concentrating
• Unexplained aches and pains
• Thoughts of death or suicide
Teenagers often times suffer silently, feeling alone. They become hopeless and believe that life will never get better. Teenagers rely on their parents and caregivers to recognize their suffering and to get them the help that they need. If you are unsure if our teenager is depressed or just “being a teenager” consider how long the symptoms have been present and how severe they are and then consider how different your teen is acting from his or her usual self. Be proactive and find a professional who can help your teen overcome this difficult part of their life. There is hope, and things can get better.
By Brandi Hess, AMFT