Teen depression can look a bit different from adult depression. In teenagers you might see more of a general irritability. Adults typically notice they feel depressed because their dominant mood is sad. Sometimes adolescent depression presents as sadness, but just as often it presents as consistent grouchy moods.
One thing I see in my therapy practice pretty regularly is parents struggling to believe their teenager is dealing with depression. This is because the teen has moments where they smile and laugh. They have times during the day when they come out of their depressed mood and engage with others around them. Parents tend to assume that teens are only unhappy at home, or at school. Teenagers with depression can be good at faking feeling okay. Even while they are laughing, there is a dark cloud somewhere in the background.
Other signs your teenager could be dealing with depression include a change in appetite, a change in sleep patterns, and a decrease in socializing. If you see your adolescent either stop eating or eat quite a lot, and this is different from normal, it is possibly a sign of depression. It could also be a symptom of many other things though, so don’t assume they are depressed solely based on a change in eating habits. If your teenager is usually a good sleeper, and now sleeps poorly or sleeps excessively, it is another possible symptom of depression (I know it sounds weird that it can be either interrupted sleep or excessive sleep since those are opposites, but people’s bodies react in different ways to depression). Finally, if your teenager is withdrawing to their room all the time and no longer has an interest in seeing friends, this is another sign of possible depression.
One sign you definitely cannot overlook is when your teenager is either cutting or expresses thoughts of suicide. These symptoms alone are often enough to diagnose depression. Please get them help immediately in these situations.
Many teens experience profound anxiety at the same time as depression. If your teenager is overwhelmed and cannot seem to get organized, this can be a sign of depression too. When a person experiences depression it is really challenging to plan and execute. What I mean by this is a person with depression might write down their homework assignments, but actually deciding which one to start first is so overwhelming that they just don’t start. Then they fall behind, and it becomes even more cumbersome.
Teen depression is more complicated than I can describe in one 450 word blog post. If you are concerned your teen is dealing with depression, please feel free to contact me. I will chat with you on the phone to try and help you decide whether an evaluation by a professional is warranted. As a parent it is always so hard to watch your kids struggle. If you’re worried about your child, my heart hurts with you.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT