Heed Warning Signs of Depression in Teens

By Laura Arrick, LCSW, July 24, 2018 –

 “You will never understand what I am going through.”
 “This is the worst day of my life.”
“I am worthless and wish I was never born.”

If you are the parent of a teenager you may have heard these words on more than one occasion. Your child could be riding the normal emotional and psychological rollercoaster of adolescence, or it could be something more alarming.

 Mental illness affects younger populations at a greater rate than once thought. With increased knowledge and better screening tools, the number of adolescents with serious concerns is growing.

 According to Mental Health America, as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression.

 The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry defines clinical depression as “an illness in which the feelings of depression persist and interfere with a child or adolescent’s ability to function on a daily basis.”

 If left unaddressed, depression can lead to substance abuse, self-harm, suicide, and other destructive behaviors.

 The symptoms of depression can be wide-ranging, but there are some basic warning signs:

  • Persistent sadness or crying
  • Poor performance in school
  • Withdrawal from friends or activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Increased fatigue
  • Poor self-esteem
  • A change in eating or sleeping habits
  • Substance use
  • Suicidal thoughts

Depressed adolescents may display an increase in irritability, anger, or hostility, extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, or frequent complaints of physical illnesses (headaches, stomachaches, etc.).

These symptoms may come and go on their own with all teenagers, so it can be tough to tell when a teen is in trouble. Think about how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how differently the teen is acting from his normal self.

If you feel your child may be experiencing clinical depression, get help immediately. Call the local mental health center to get an evaluation or United Way’s 2-1-1 line to get linked to other community counseling options.

If your child’s school is served by a Youth First Social Worker or another counseling professional, they can help connect you, too.

Parents can often feel hopeless and lost when it comes to helping a child who may be depressed.

Here are some tips for talking with teens:

  • Offer support. Try not to ask too many questions. Teens often have no idea why they feel the way they do and have difficulty expressing their feelings in words.
  • Be gentle but persistent. It can be very uncomfortable for kids to open up to their parents about personal matters. They may feel ashamed or afraid of being misunderstood. It is very likely they will shut you out at first, but you shouldn’t give up. Be gentle with your approach, but don’t shut down communication completely.
  • Listen without lecturing. Do your best to resist the urge to criticize or judge. Be attentive and allow your teen to open up. Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.
  • Validate your teen’s feelings. Don’t try and talk them out of how they feel even if their feelings seem irrational or silly to you. At least acknowledge how they feel so they will keep talking and not shut you out.

Parents who heed the warning signs of depression and seek professional help can help protect children from more serious or even tragic consequences.