Warning signs: Is your Teen Depressed?

Just a moody teen or something to worry about?

Yes teenagers can be moody, we were all there once. Your teen is quite likely to experience their own moody spells and this is a perfectly normal part of growing up. Hormones are raging, bodies are changing and cognitive development means that they are faced with more challenging decisions and responsibilities.

Throw in relationships with the opposite sex, friendship battles and the pressures of performing academically and it’s no wonder they’re sulking in their bedrooms. This will of course all seem insignificant when they look back in years to come but for the moment, these issues are very real in your teen’s world.

Depression is a completely different matter altogether. It is more than moodiness, it is a clinical condition classed within the realms of mental health. The consequences can be far reaching from social withdrawal, difficulty dealing with the normal day to day activities of life to more serious situations including suicidal thoughts or worse still, acting on those thoughts.

It wasn’t until more recently that the psychology and medical worlds started to recognise mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and depression in children and young people. Unfortunately, this has been shown to be the case with some children as young as five being diagnosed with depression. Teenage suicide is one of the leading causes of death within that age group and without proper acknowledgement and treatment for depression or other mood disorders, the outcome can be very serious.

Facts relating to teenage depression and mood disorders show that:

> The average age for early onset depression in teens is just 14 years old.

> By the end of their teens, up to 20% will have experienced some form of mood disorder.

> Figures show that up to 70% will recover or make significant progress through treatment, this can include medication and therapy.

> It is also interesting to note that up to 80% of teens do not receive the help they need when it comes to depression and mood disorders.

Depression or other serious mood disorders that go untreated can lead to further complications such as eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, problems with academic attainment, bullying and even suicide.

Teens today are facing a host of pressures not only from natural processes such as puberty and acceptance but also from peer pressure, the idealist attitude of the media and the pressure to achieve. The rocky transition from childhood to adulthood can also spark conflict at home, escalating the situations further.

Another issue making a diagnosis difficult is that teens who are suffering from depression may not necessarily appear depressed or exhibit the classic signs of suffering with a mood disorder. Some teens go the other way and display more obvious signs such as rage, irritability, aggression and prominent argumentative behaviour.

Teen depression: signs and symptoms

So, how do you go about telling the difference between what is classed as clinical depression and normal teenage moody behaviour?

Consider the following points when trying to decide whether your teen or a teen you are worried about, is showing any of the following signs for at least two weeks.

✔ Very little interest in life in general, cranky and seeming sad and withdrawn

✔ Changes in appetite, this can be significant weight gain or loss

✔ Little interest in sporting activities or other activities previously enjoyed

✔ Little or no interaction with family or loved ones including close friends

✔ Unable to sustain a relationship, this could be friendships or romantic relationships

✔ Insomnia or excessive sleeping, not able to get up on time or always late for school or other commitments

✔ Excessive or repetitive behaviour, inability to keep still or seeming very slow

✔ Criticising themselves or seeming overly sensitive

✔ Lack of energy, disinterested in social activities, boredom

✔ Complaining frequently about pain or needing above average attention

✔ Low grades at school or regular absenteeism whether suddenly or over an extended period of time

✔ Poor performance in school, a drop in grades, or frequent absences.

✔ An unhealthy interest in death and dying. Possibly handing out belongings or making reference to a world that would be better off without them in it

While some of the above can be indicative of fairly normal teen behaviour, some are more serious and can have far reaching consequences if the appropriate diagnosis is not made early enough.

For this reason, it is crucial that professional help is sought as a true diagnosis can only be made by a trained health professional competent in diagnosing mental health disorders. A child psychiatrist or psychologist would be appropriate although your GP can also initiate the process for referral.

As with many conditions, depression can be hereditary or be prevalent in family history. Equally, the condition may be as a result of abuse or a significant or traumatic event in the child’s life. Stressful situations such as divorce or death can have a similar impact however, this may be avoided if the right support is put in place from the outset.

Whatever the reason, depression is a biological disorder and there should be more focus on removing the stigma associated with depression or mood disorders as these can also be contributing factors to negative outcomes. In many cases, a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling and medication can help to address the situation.

It is imperative that not only the teenager is supported but that wider support and education is in place for the whole family. Teens will require support and understanding while they are experiencing bouts of depression and these bouts will also be mixed in with normal teenage behaviour so it is important to remember that not all behaviour is directly linked to a mood disorder.

Depression affects more than a teen’s general mood. It can drain their motivation and reduce energy levels, their concentration may suffer and their ability to take part in everyday activities may be minimal. The disorder interferes with the teen’s ability to recognise and engage with the joyful things in life. They often fail to see any or very little good in the world. It is also mindful to consider that while a teen may be experiencing depression, they are not labelled as having a bad attitude. This is often a common misrepresentation of the situation and can lead to further levels of depression if the sufferer feels isolated, disliked and ignored or labelled.

If you think your teen is depressed, take action now. It is better to be wrong and find that they move past whatever was getting them down than leave it and find out that they have been suffering for longer than necessary.

An evaluation is key to diagnosis. Take steps to get the ball rolling as soon as you are concerned. If your teen’s moodiness is going on longer than it should or is having a negative impact on their life contact your GP, school nurse, local CAMHS service or hospital setting who can help to signpost you in the right direction or assist directly in the referral process.

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