Are You Concerned Your Teenager May Have Depression?
Depression in adolescents can be difficult for parents to recognise. Adolescents can experience a range of emotions which affect their behaviour, as they transition from childhood to adulthood.
Their body and physical appearance is changing, while they are being flooded with hormonal changes. Mentally, they are challenged with trying to discover who they are and what their purpose is in life. Added to that are social changes, both in and outside of school, where new friendships and relationships are being formed, or broken and sexuality is being explored. WOW what an exhausting and confusing time for all!
It is not surprising that adolescents and parents find this period emotionally challenging. Being sullen, moody and argumentative, can often be an unwelcome part of growing up, especially during teenage years.
Equally it is not surprising that parents struggle to tell if their teenage son or daughter is depressed, or just experiencing natural growing pains?
The following questions are a guide (although not exhaustive), to help you decide if your teenager is experiencing the normal transitional difficulties of adolescents, or if they may need to seek support for their emotional wellbeing.
When reflecting on these questions it is important to take ‘normal’ teenage behaviour into account.
- Is their behaviour more erratic than usual?
- Are they spending excessive amounts of time alone in their room?
- Have they stopped interacting with friends?
- Are they often sad and tearful?
- Are they more secretive than normal?
- Are they having frequent outbursts of anger?
- Have they become violent and aggressive?
- Have they stopped participating in hobbies or activities they used to enjoy?
- Have they started misusing drugs or alcohol?
- Are they sleeping too much or too little?
- Has there been a marked change in their appetite or weight?
- Has their schoolwork deteriorated rapidly?
If your child is showing any, or all of these signs, it is important you communicate with them and offer support and reassurance. There may be a reasonable explanation as to why they’re feeling more withdrawn and upset than usual, such as experiencing personal trauma, illness, bereavement, parents divorcing, moving home, changing schools, fear over exams etc. So allowances should be made for this.
However, if the behaviour(s) continue, your son or daughter may benefit from seeking expert advice and support.
Your first step is to consult your GP and seek a referral to a health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Following an evaluation, a range of treatment options will be considered.
If your child is considered to be mild to moderately depressed, psychological intervention may be sufficient treatment on its own. Psychological intervention allows your child to open up about their feelings in a safe, non-judgemental environment. The sooner this is put in place, the better, as it could prevent the depression from escalating to a severe level.
If the depression is considered more severe, medication may be considered. You must get immediate help if your son or daughter is having suicidal thoughts; threatening suicide; displaying violent and aggressive behaviour; self-harming; or other actions that are harmful to themselves or others. Medication may be necessary in these circumstances.
A combination of medication and psychological intervention is considered that the most effective way to treat and prevent the recurrence of depressive episodes.
The whole family might be affected by a teenager with depression. Parents and siblings may experience feelings of guilt, frustration, anger and blame. In these circumstances, family therapy could be very useful. Parents may also benefit from attending parenting classes to learn how to encourage positive communication and interaction between family members, and to gain confidence in addressing unwanted or harmful behaviours. It’s important the family is united and supportive of each other for healing to happen.
Teenage depression is a serious mental health disorder, and professional help should be sought. However, you can also help your son or daughter, and your whole family, to recover by trying to live healthier lifestyles. Encourage regular exercise and activities. Eat healthily. Go on family outings, even if it’s a picnic to your local park. Play games involving the whole family. Have fun.
Adopting a healthier lifestyle is not only beneficial to your family, it can also help to prevent your son or daughter from relapsing.