It can be challenging to identify depressive symptoms with teenagers. Teen depression often presents differently than it does with adults. Parents and caregivers may mistakenly overlook symptoms. However, by accurately identifying depressive symptoms, approaching with open communication, and intentionally engaging with your teen, you can provide a supportive presence while helping your teen combat depression.
How to Spot Teen Depression
I feel like a heavy blanket is on me and I can’t get up.
A dark cloud follows me wherever I go.
I’m always in a “blah” mood and nothing gets me excited.
These depictions are commonly used by individuals experiencing depression.
During adolescence, individuals are navigating biological and sociological changes such as growth spurts and interpersonal dynamics. The dismissal of “normal” teenage behaviors and moods consequently hinders parents from identifying any warning signs of teen depression. To determine if your adolescent is showing warning signs of depression, look for the following changes:
- Sad, low mood. Your teen is sad or irritable over a long period of time. The sadness is almost daily and there is no source of conflict.
- Lack of interest in activities. There is a significant change in your teen’s social pattern. They are no longer participating in enjoyable activities, or engaging less with family and friends.
- Changes in appetite. There is a sudden increase or decrease in appetite outside of their usual eating habits. Your teen no longer is finishing meals or snacking more when they are not hungry.
- Changes in sleep patterns. Your teen is having difficulty going to sleep and staying asleep at night. You notice your teen wanting to sleep rather than attend social activities.
- Dramatic decrease in self-esteem. You notice an increase in negative thoughts and constant feelings of guilt. Your teen is becoming overly critical of themselves.
- Constant fatigue. You teen lacks energy to do day to day chores and is falling asleep more in settings such as school. They’re always complaining about being tired.
- Restlessness or slower responses. Your teen is dragging around the house and moving recognizably slower. They take longer to process thoughts and respond.
- Lack of concentration. Your teen is having challenges staying focused at home or school. You notice they are having difficulty concentrating and seem to be constantly lost in thought.
- Thoughts about death. You teen has an increased interest in death whether it be in conversation, writings, or drawings. You may hear comments such as, “I don’t want to wake up from my sleep.”
Approaching Your Teen with Communication
There are many ways you can be helpful in addition to seeking therapy for teens. One of the most effective ways to support your teen with depression is to have an open line of communication. Don’t assume you know how your teen feels. Try not to question or blame them for what’s happening as it may come across as an interrogation or form of insincerity. The following conversation starters can help you approach your teen if you are suspecting them to be suffering from depression.
- I noticed you haven’t attended any of your school activities or clubs, what has changed your interests?
- You’re usually excited when we do this activity together, but recently you seemed sad. Please share with me what’s going on.
- You seem to be sleeping a lot more recently and I overheard you saying you didn’t want to wake back up. What did you mean by saying that?
- You haven’t been yourself lately and I’m really concerned. I want to support you, but don’t know how. What do you need from me?
Following Through with Action
Once getting a better understanding of your teen’s challenges, the next step entails creating a team of support. Reach out to a mental health professional who has experience with therapy for teens. Your teen needs a space to explore what’s going on in their world without judgment or bias. Make sure to include them when seeking out a therapist. If they are included in the process, they will feel more invested in their treatment.
Continue to create opportunities where they can interact with loved ones. Establish structure within the home by maintaining their diet with consistent meals and keeping them on a consistent sleep regimen. Following through with meaningful actions is just as impactful as expressing your concerns and care.
If you have a young person dealing with teen depression, please reach out to the Pure Health Center. We have the resources and professionals to help support you and your teen overcome this illness.