What does depression look like in teenagers?
It often shows up as irritability. Your once pleasant teen is now grumbling at you, constantly in a bad mood and very snappy. You’re probably thinking, ‘Wait, I thought that’s what teenagers were like anyhow!’ Well, sometimes. If they’re like this all the time though, they might be feeling depressed. Don’t get stuck on that thought though because there are a myriad of other reasons adolescents are endlessly irritable.
Adolescent depression can take the classic form. Adults who are depressed typically have sleep issues. They either sleep way too much or have perpetual insomnia. They also have food struggles. They might lack an appetite, and find that food has very little excitement and flavor. They also might eat excessively to try and comfort the unpleasant emotional state of depression. Emotions are always either negative or nonexistent. An adult with depression usually has a negative outlook on the future and on their own self. They tend not to have interest in activity either. Adolescent depression can look like this.
As a parent it feels really frustrating. If you have a depressed teenager, don’t you feel like grabbing them by the shoulders and giving them a good shake? Don’t you just want to yell at them to wake up and tell them to live again!?! Of course you don’t do this, but you probably don’t know what you should do. You’ve tried so many things. You’ve suggested they call a friend, join a club, or go out to have fun, but nothing seems to work. Either they won’t cooperate with you, or if they do they don’t seem to enjoy it. They tell you what used to be fun just isn’t anymore.
Adolescents with depression need the proper kind of help. Depending on how the depression symptoms are presenting a professional might recommend medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, family therapy or a combination of things. It’s a complex problem. Your teenager isn’t choosing to be this way. They honestly can’t help it. I’m huge on taking personal responsibility for your attitude and behavior so I don’t say this lightly. There is a difference between a bad attitude and true depression. A professional therapist or psychiatrist can help you sort this out.
If your teen is dealing with depressed moods please get them an evaluation. One thing that comes with real depression is thoughts of suicide. This isn’t something to mess around with, and it’s not something to ignore. It has to be taken very seriously. If your teenager mentions feeling like they want to kill himself or herself, please get an appointment made as soon as possible. If your adolescent says they plan to go through with it then don’t wait for an appointment. You need to take an immediate trip to the emergency room. I know you feel funny doing this, but this is an honest to goodness emergency.
Adolescent depression is frustrating and heartbreaking for parents. It’s really difficult and sad for teenagers too. They usually need extra help to get through it, and you’ll appreciate having a sense of direction too.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT