Major Depressive Disorder is much more serious than people realize. I often hear people come into my office complaining of “depression.” While they might have some symptoms of depression, it is less common to meet the full diagnosis.
One thing that confuses parents is that depression looks different in teenagers than in adults. It can still include all the classic symptoms such as a lot of crying, too much sleep or insomnia, not wanting to eat, less interest in activities, and a general feeling of hopelessness. However, there are other symptoms that also mark depression in teenagers, which are easy to miss. Teens do not necessarily have low energy. What they will show instead is a lot of irritability. The irritability will often be irrational. They can snap quickly. You might be thinking that teenagers can be moody anyhow. This is true. However, with depression, the moodiness is often coupled with hopelessness, a drop in grades, and social struggles.
If you notice your teen has become markedly more irritable, and it lasts for two weeks or more, it is time to have them evaluated. If your teen mentions wanting to die, or suicidal thoughts, do not wait two weeks for an evaluation. Get them help right away. While a lot of teenagers say these kinds of things to get attention, some of them are serious. It’s too risky to assume they don’t mean it. Please take suicidal statements seriously.
Depression can be mixed with anxiety too. Many teens feel more nervous when they are depressed. It makes sense. The depressed moods lead to being more easily upset. If things more easily upset your adolescent, then they are likely to be nervous about more situations.
What can you do to help? Firstly, sit down with your teenager and have a heart to heart. Find out if there is something bothering him or her that hasn’t been shared. Be prepared to hear something you won’t like. You might hear about a few mean kids at school, but you are just as likely to hear ways they are unhappy with you. The worst thing you can do is discount your teen’s emotions and experiences. Keep in mind that teenagers interpret situations differently than adults. They still live in a very self-focused world. If you’ve been more short-tempered than usual because of stress at the office, a teenager is likely to take it personally. Remind them gently that not everything is about them. Help them also remember that other kids at school have struggles, which can make them rude; it probably isn’t personal either.
Once you’ve had the heart to heart observe your teen for a couple days. If they don’t seem to feel any better, check in with them again. Offer to get them help. You’d be surprised at how many want to talk to someone, but are afraid to ask.
Things to take home from this blog post:
1. Depression is a difficult emotional disorder.
2. Depression is real in teenagers, and not necessarily made-up for attention.
3. Take any comments about suicide very seriously.
4. Try and address your teen’s emotions, but don’t hesitate to get them help if they need it.
5. Don’t assume you or your teenager is a failure if they experience depression.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT