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Teenage depression isn’t just bad moods and the occasional melancholy—it’s a serious problem that impacts every aspect of a teen’s life. Teen depression can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, self–loathing and self–mutilation, pregnancy, violence, and even suicide. But as a concerned parent, teacher, or friend, there are many ways you can help. Talking about the problem and offering support can go a long way toward getting your teenager back on track. In This Article:
* Understanding teen depression
* Signs and symptoms
* Effects of teen depression
* Suicide warning signs in teens
* Help a depressed teenager
* Teenage antidepressant use
* Supporting a teen through treatment
* Taking care of the whole family
Understanding teen depression
If you’re a teenager struggling with depression or you’d like to learn how to help a depressed friend, see Teen Depression: Guide for Teenagers. There are as many misconceptions about teen depression as there are about teenagers in general. Yes, the teen years are tough, but most teens balance the requisite angst with good friendships, success in school or outside activities, and the development of a strong sense of self. Occasional bad moods or acting out is to be expected, but depression is something different. Depression can destroy the very essence of a teenager’s personality, causing an overwhelming sense of sadness, despair, or anger. Whether the incidences of teen depression are actually increasing, or we’re just becoming more aware of them, the fact remains that depression strikes teenagers far more often than most people think. And although depression is highly treatable, experts say only one in five depressed teens receive help. Unlike an adult, who have the ability to seek assistance on his or her own, a teenager usually must rely on parents, teachers, or other caregivers to recognize his or her suffering and get he or she the treatment the teen needs. So if you have an adolescent in your life, it’s important to learn what teen depression looks like and what to do if you spot the warning signs. Signs and symptoms of teen depression
Teenagers face a host of pressures, from the changes of puberty to questions about who they are and where they fit in. The natural transition from child to adult can also bring parental conflict as teens start to assert their independence. With all this drama, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between depression and normal teenage moodiness. Making things even more complicated, teens with depression do not necessarily appear sad, nor do they always withdraw from others. For some depressed teens, symptoms of irritability, aggression, and rage are more prominent. Signs and symptoms of depression in teens
* Sadness or hopelessness * Irritability, anger, or hostility * Tearfulness or frequent crying * Withdrawal from friends and family * Loss of interest in activities * Changes in eating and sleeping habits| * Restlessness and agitation * Feelings of worthlessness and guilt * Lack of enthusiasm and motivation * Fatigue or lack of energy * Difficulty concentrating * Thoughts of death or suicide | If you’re unsure if an adolescent in your life is depressed or just “being a teenager,” consider how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how different the teen is acting from his or her usual self. While some “growing pains” are to be expected as teenagers grapple with the challenges of growing up, dramatic, long-lasting changes in personality, mood, or behavior are red flags of a deeper problem. The difference between teenage and adult depression
Depression in teens can look very different from depression in adults. The following symptoms of depression are more common in teenagers than in their adult counterparts: * Irritable or angry mood – As noted above, 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. This is a particular problem for “over-achievers.” * 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. Effects of teen depression
The negative effects of teenage depression go far beyond a melancholy mood. Many rebellious and unhealthy behaviors or attitudes in teenagers are actually indications of depression. The following are some the ways in which teens “act out” or “act in” in an attempt to cope with their emotional pain: * Problems at school. Depression can cause low energy and concentration difficulties. At school, this may lead to poor attendance, a drop in grades, or frustration with schoolwork in a formerly good student. * Running away. Many depressed teens run away from home or talk about running away. Such attempts are usually a cry for help. * Drug and alcohol abuse. Teens may use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to “self-medicate” their depression. Unfortunately, substance abuse only makes things worse.
* Low self-esteem. Depression can trigger and intensify feelings of ugliness, shame, failure, and unworthiness. * Internet addiction. Teens may go online to escape their problems, but excessive computer use only increases their isolation, making them more depressed. * Reckless behavior. Depressed teens may engage in dangerous or high-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving, out-of-control drinking, and unsafe sex. * Violence. Some depressed teens—usually boys who are the victims of bullying—become violent. As in the case of the Columbine and Newtown school massacres, self-hatred and a wish to die can erupt into violence and homicidal rage. Teen depression is also associated with a number of other mental health problems, including eating disorders and self-injury. Suicide warning signs in teenagers
Teenagers and Suicide
If you suspect that a teenager you know is suicidal, take immediate action! For 24-hour suicide prevention and support in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. To find a suicide helpline outside the U.S., visit Befrienders Worldwide. To learn more about suicide risk factors, warning signs, and what to do in a crisis, read Suicide Prevention. Seriously depressed teens often think about, speak of, or make “attention-getting” attempts at suicide. But an alarming and increasing number of teenage suicide attempts are successful, so suicidal thoughts or behaviors should always be taken very seriously. For the overwhelming majority of suicidal teens, depression or another psychological disorder plays a primary role. In depressed teens who also abuse alcohol or drugs, the risk of suicide is even greater. Because of the very real danger of suicide, teenagers who are depressed should be watched closely for any signs of suicidal thoughts or behavior. Suicide warning signs in depressed teens
* Talking or joking about committing suicide
* Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.” * Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”) * Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide * Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury * Giving away prized possessions
* Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for the last time * Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves Encouraging a depressed teen to open up Learn to identify and express your feelings
Watch 3-min. video: Roadblocks to awareness
If you suspect that a teenager in your life is suffering from depression, speak up right away. Even if you’re unsure that depression is the issue, the troublesome behaviors and emotions you’re seeing in your teenager are signs of a problem. Whether or not that problem turns out to be depression, it still needs to be addressed—the sooner the better. In a loving and non-judgmental way, share your concerns with your teenager. Let him or her know what specific signs of depression you’ve noticed and why they worry you. Then encourage your child to share what he or she is going through. Your teen may be reluctant to open up; he or she may be ashamed, afraid of being misunderstood. Alternatively, depressed teens may simply have a hard time expressing what they’re feeling. If your teen claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation for what is causing the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts. Remember that denial is a strong emotion. Furthermore, teenagers may not believe that what they’re experiencing is the result of depression. Tips for Talking to a Depressed Teen |
Offer support | Let depressed teenagers know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally. Hold back from asking a lot of questions (teenagers don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.| Be gentle but persistent | Don’t give up if your adolescent shuts you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.| Listen without lecturing | Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. Avoid offering unsolicited advice or ultimatums as well.| Validate feelings | Don’t try to talk your teen out of his or her depression, even if his or her feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Simply acknowledge the pain and sadness he or she is feeling. If you don’t, he or she will feel like you don’t take his or her emotions seriously.| Getting treatment for teen depression
Depression is very damaging when left untreated, so don’t wait and hope that the symptoms will go away. If you see depression’s warning signs, seek professional help. Make an immediate appointment for your teen to see the family physician for a depression screening. Be prepared to give your doctor specific information about your teen’s depression symptoms, including how long they’ve been present, how much they’re affecting your child’s daily life, and any patterns you’ve noticed. The doctor should also be told about any close relatives who have ever been diagnosed with depression or other mental health disorders. As part of the depression screening, the doctor will give your teenager a complete physical exam and take blood samples to check for medical causes of your child’s symptoms. Seek out a depression specialist
If there are no health problems that are causing your teenager’s depression, ask your doctor to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in children and adolescents. Depression in teens can be tricky, particularly when it comes to treatment options such as medication. A mental health professional with advanced training and a strong background treating adolescents is the best bet for your teenager’s best care. When choosing a specialist, always get your child’s input. Teenagers are dependent on parents for making many of their health decisions, so listen to what they’re telling you. No one therapist is a miracle worker, and no one treatment works for everyone. If your child feels uncomfortable or is just not ’connecting’ with the psychologist or psychiatrist, ask for a referral to another provider that may be better suited to your teenager. Don’t rely on medication alone
Expect a discussion with the specialist you’ve chosen about treatment possibilities for your son or daughter. There are a number of treatment options for depression in teenagers, including one-on-one talk therapy, group or family therapy, and medication. Talk therapy is often a good initial treatment for mild to moderate cases of depression. Over the course of therapy, your teen’s depression may resolve. If it doesn’t, medication may be warranted. However, antidepressants should only be used as part of a broader treatment plan. Unfortunately, some parents feel pushed into choosing antidepressant medication over other treatments that may be cost-prohibitive or time-intensive. However, unless your child is considered to be high risk for suicide (in which case medication and/or constant observation may be necessary), you have time to carefully weigh your options before committing to any one treatment. Risks of teenage antidepressant use
In severe cases of depression, medication may help ease symptoms. However, antidepressants aren’t always the best treatment option. They come with risks and side effects of their own, including a number of safety concerns specific to children and young adults. It’s important to weigh the benefits against the risks before starting your teen on medication. Antidepressants and the teenage brain
Antidepressants were designed and tested on adults, so their impact on the young, developing brains is not yet completely understood. Some researchers are concerned that the use of drugs such as Prozac in children and teens might interfere with normal brain development. The human brain develops rapidly in young adults, and exposure to antidepressants may impact that development—particularly the way the brain manages stress and regulates emotions. Antidepressant suicide warning for teens
Antidepressant medications may increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in some teenagers. All antidepressants are required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to carry a “black box” warning label about this risk in children, adolescents, and young adults up to the age of 24. The risk of suicide is highest during the first two months of antidepressant treatment. Certain young adults are at an even greater risk for suicide when taking antidepressants, including teens with bipolar disorder, a family history of bipolar disorder, or a history of previous suicide attempts. Teenagers on antidepressants should be closely monitored for any sign that the depression is getting worse. Warning signs include new or worsening symptoms of agitation, irritability, or anger. Unusual changes in behavior are also red flags. According to FDA guidelines, after starting an antidepressant or changing the dose, your teenager should see his or her doctor: * Once a week for four weeks
* Every two weeks for the next month
* At the end of their 12th week taking the drug
* More often if problems or questions arise
Teens on Antidepressants: Red Flags To Watch Out For
Call a doctor if you notice…
* New or more thoughts of suicide * Failed suicide attempts * New or worse depression * New or worse anxiety * Feeling very agitated or restless * Panic attacks * Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)| * New or worse irritability * Acting aggressive, being angry, or violent * Acting on dangerous impulses * Being extremely hyperactive in actions and talking (hypomania or mania) * Other unusual changes in behavior| Supporting a teen through depression treatment
As the depressed teenager in your life goes through treatment, the most important thing you can do is to let him or her know that you’re there to listen and offer support. Now more than ever, your teenager needs to know that he or she is valued, accepted, and cared for. * 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. During this trying time, it’s important to remember that your child is not being difficult on purpose. Your teen is suffering, so do your best to be patient and understanding. * Encourage physical activity. Encourage your teenager to stay active. Exercise can go a long way toward relieving the symptoms of depression, so find ways to incorporate it into your teenager’s day. Something as simple as walking the dog or going on a bike ride can be beneficial. * Encourage social activity. Isolation only makes depression worse, so encourage your teenager to see friends and praise efforts to socialize. Offer to take your teen out with friends or suggest social activities that might be of interest, such as sports, after-school clubs, or an art class.
* Stay involved in treatment. Make sure your teenager is following all treatment instructions and going to therapy. It’s especially important that your child takes any prescribed medication as instructed. Track changes in your teen’s condition, and call the doctor if depression symptoms seem to be getting worse. * Learn about depression. Just like you would if your child had a disease you knew very little about, read up on depression so that you can be your own “expert.” The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to help your depressed teen. Encourage your teenager to learn more about depression as well. Reading up on his or her condition can help a depressed teen realize that he or she is not alone, giving your child a better understanding of what he or she is going through. The road to your depressed teenager’s recovery may be bumpy, so be patient. Rejoice in small victories and prepare for the occasional setback. Most importantly, don’t judge yourself or compare your family to others. As long as you’re doing your best to get your teen the necessary help, you’re doing your job. Taking care of the whole family when one child is depressed
As a parent dealing with teen depression, you may find yourself focusing all your energy and attention on your depressed child. Meanwhile, you may be neglecting your own needs and the needs of other family members. While helping your depressed child should be a top priority, it’s important to keep your whole family strong and healthy during this difficult time. * Take care of yourself– In order to help a depressed teen, you need to stay healthy and positive yourself, so don’t ignore your own needs. The stress of the situation can affect your own moods and emotions, so cultivate your well–being by eating right, getting enough sleep, and making time for things you enjoy. * Reach out for support – Get the emotional support you need. Reach out to friends, join a support group, or see a therapist of your own. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, helpless, or angry.
The important thing is to talk about how your teen’s depression is affecting you, rather than bottling up your emotions. * Be open with the family – Don’t tiptoe around the issue of teen depression in an attempt to “protect” the other children. 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 – Depression in one child can cause stress or anxiety in other family members, so make sure “healthy” children are not ignored. Siblings may need special individual attention or professional help of their own to handle their feelings about the situation. * Avoid the blame game – It can be easy to blame yourself or another family member for your teen’s depression, but it only adds to an already stressful situation. Furthermore, depression is normally caused by a number of factors, so it’s unlikely—except in the case of abuse or neglect—that any loved one is “responsible.” Teenagers
What happens when a child becomes a teenager? This handout explores some of the changes that take place when a child becomes a teenager. The teenage years mark a transition in a young person’s life when they change from being a child to an adult. Physically, children are maturing earlier than they used to, and changes in technology and lifestyle appear to have speeded up young peoples social development. Teenage years are characterised by less dependence on the family and more exposure to the outside world. It is a move from dependence to independence. This process begins gradually and accelerates as the child becomes older. A parents’ role changes from providing essential nurturing and protective care and instruction to preparing a child for independence and the ability to survive in the world outside the family. At this stage, parenting styles change to provide advice, negotiation and contracts with their teenagers. This process of change can be difficult for all involved – parents, siblings and for the teenager themselves. Cognitive Development
Teenager’s brains are still developing particularly in terms of:
* Developing advanced reasoning skills.
* Developing abstract thinking.
* Development of meta-cognition (making sense of everything). How does this affect teenagers?
* They need more sleep – around 9.5 hours per night.
* Increased clumsiness can result as their bodies change and develop. * They can develop worries about being out of step in terms of development with other teenagers. * They can develop awkward feelings to opposite sex parents as they mature sexually. * They become more interested in sexual matters.
* They develop greater sensitivities to weight and their general appearance. * They develop a heightened level of self-consciousness. * Strong over-dramatic feelings can develop – like: “You have ruined my life!” “No one understands me!” * They can become cause orientated (e.g. joining groups such as Greenpeace, the church or a gang) * They can become more interested in ‘justice’ – though often have difficulty seeing all the shades of grey in issues. So what can you do to help them in this area of development? * Try not to over-criticise your teenage child.
* Encourage a good sleep pattern and try to understand the need for sleeping-in. * Encourage healthy models of eating.
* Encourage exercise.
* Be open to answering questions about sex.
* Respect their need for space.
* Be patient about teenagers grooming habits.
Psycho Social Development
So what are the changes taking place in this area of a teenager’s life? * Establishing an identity (A sense of who they are)
* Establishing a sense of autonomy (being comfortable with themselves) * Establishing intimacy in their relationships with other people – boyfriends and girlfriends. * Becoming comfortable with one’s sexuality.
* Achieving educational goals.
How does this affect teenagers?
* They begin to spend more time with friends and less with their families * They question more about sex, sexual attitudes and adult beliefs. * They may become upset and confused about their own sexuality. * Teenagers often keep diaries as a way of working through issues. * Issues of privacy arise such as insisting on doors being locked. * There may be an interest in multiple hobbies/interests and these may change quickly. * The development of elusiveness (difficult to understand or make sense of) * They may become more argumentative and frustrated and come out with comments such as, “You just don’t understand me!” * Teenagers may not want to be seen in public with their parents. * They begin to interact with parents as people in their own right (this can be particularly difficult for parents). So what can you do about these changes?
* Encourage involvement in groups and activities. Don’t be surprised if they lose interest after a short time and want to try out something else. * Praise them for their efforts and abilities, even if they do not see things through. They need encouragement at such a sensitive time in their lives, not criticising and putting down. Try to encourage self-confidence and a belief in their abilities. * Explore career goals and options with them in an open minded way. * Establish clear and reasonable behavioural guidelines
* Establish rituals to mark significant points in their development e.g. allowing them to have a party on their sixteenth birthday, modifying rules around time-keeping, giving them the key to the house etc. * Be aware of the increased importance of friends. Make you house available for them. This way you get to know their friends and can keep in touch with what is going on in their lives. * Although teenagers are developing new independence and social skills they still need a structured environment in which to live. They don’t stop needing your love and guidance. Impact on Family Life
We have already explored how teenage development may impact on the emotional climate of the family for parents. Younger siblings will be impacted on too. If you have younger children and teenagers, you will need quite different parenting styles for each set of children. This can be draining and demanding. Sometimes, you will need to remind yourself that a different approach is needed. Modifying your management style can be difficult. It’s important to take time out with your partner to discuss the situation so you work together and in tune with each other. Thinking about your own experiences as a teenager with your parents can help you identify difficult areas of engagement. For instance, if you never felt you could talk to your own parents as a teenager, you may over do it with your own. On the other hand, you might not know how to talk to your teenager because you were never taught how by your parents. If you have a partner, sharing this information can help them understand your attitudes and responses. Younger children can worry about their older siblings if they are having problems and be upset by constant rowing and arguments. So what can you do?
* Try not to take things too personally. Teenagers can say and do hurtful things, which they later often regret. Try to empathise, listen to what they are saying and try not to get drawn into arguments with them. Try not to see things as a battle. * Listen to their ideas. Involve them in decision making around rules. * Provide opportunities to involve them in voluntary work. * Be curious about their ideas and what they are doing.
* Be open to discussing your own views with them.
* Build a relationship with your teenager. You can do this by discussing your own teenager years, your mistakes and your vulnerabilities. When to Seek Help with a Teenager
There are times when a teenager may not cope with these life changes. Look out for the following difficulties. Sometimes you may need to seek professional help. * Marked changes in school performance.
* An inability to cope with problems and daily activities.
* Marked changes in sleeping patterns.
* Changes in eating habits.
* Lots of physical complaints.
* Depression – shown by sustained, prolonged negative mood and attitude, often accompanied by poor appetite, difficulty sleeping, thoughts of death and social withdrawal. * Abuse of alcohol.
* Sexually acting out.
* An intense fear of becoming obese (fat) that is out of proportion to their actual body weight, vomiting food, restricted eating and/or over-exercising. * Persistent nightmares.
* Threats of self-harm to self or others.
* Self-injury or self-destructive behaviour.
* Frequent outbursts of anger and aggression.
* Threats to run away.
* Truancy, thefts, vandalism and violation of the rights of others.
* Strange thoughts and feelings and unusual behaviours.
These are typical symptoms of Teenage depression:
* Poor performance in school.
* Withdrawal from friends and activities.
* Sadness and hopelessness.
* Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation.
* Anger and rage and overreaction to criticism.
* Feelings of not being able to satisfy ideals.
* Poor self-esteem or guilt.
* Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness.
* Restlessness and agitation.
* Changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
* Substance misuse.
* Self-harm such as cutting arms or other parts of their body.
* Problems with authority.
* Suicidal thoughts or actions.
If you feel your chid has depression, encourage them to seek help from their doctor or counsellor. Video on Depression from youtube
Where to get Help for Teenagers
If you are having difficulties or have concerns for your teenager try the things mentioned above. If they do not work, consider these other sources of help:
* Get another family member to talk to them (partner, sibling, grandparents etc.) * Ask their friends if they have concerns or worries (in a discreet way). Ask if they will talk to them. * Ask at school or college if they have concerns. Enquire if the school or college have a counsellor. In the UK, young people at High School have a Connexions worker allocated to them at age 14. The Connexions service can offer counselling and sometimes anger management for young people. Some schools have their own qualified counsellors as well. * If your teenager has a mental health problem go to see your doctor. In the UK, GP’s can refer to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. They offer a range of services to families and young people. Remember, that you cannot force your child to have therapy unless they have a very serious mental health problem.
* In the UK you can contact NHS online for information about mental health problems and who to contact for help in your area. * If your teenager has a complete mental breakdown such as a psychotic episode, contact your GP and/or the police if things are getting dangerous. They can arrange an admission into a mental health hospital even if the child refuses. However, your teenager will have to be judged to have a severe mental health problem before this will be done. * If your teenager is being violent, aggressive and/or destructive of your property you can call the police. They may contact social services if they feel it would help. * Social services may offer help with severe family-relationship difficulties. * Arrange to see a family therapist. Family therapy is an effective treatment approach for many family teenage difficulties. In the UK, Family Therapy is often available through Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
You can get it privately too. * In the UK the Youth Offending Team Service can provide family support and help for young people who are very likely to get in trouble with the police or have received a conviction. * There are many voluntary agencies offering support to young people who have drug and alcohol problems. A search on the internet will find national and local services. Your GP and social service departments will give you information too. * There may be local youth workers available to give you advice and to provide help to your teenager. Ask your local social services department to find out how to contact them. * Some social services departments and health services offer teenage parenting classes. These aim to improve parenting skills and are especially useful when parents are falling out over the management of their teenagers. * In the UK your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service operate ‘duty professional’ services staffed by well-qualified mental health practitioners. They can advise you on whether a referral to their service would be appropriate and if not, where you might look for help.