The teenage years can be a difficult time in anyone’s life, hormones are in overdrive, the body changes, peer pressure starts to rear its head, there is the added stress of academic expectations, and of course, the nuisances of a teenager’s home life to grabble with. All of these external influences can impact the daily highs and lows of a teenager’s mood however for some teenagers it becomes more than a bad day or temporary low and can develop into symptoms and signs of teen depression.
Some frightening numbers and the current situation.
Teenage depression goes beyond occasional moodiness or irritability, it is a serious health condition that can greatly impact how a teenager thinks, feels, and behaves. What is more, it can cause emotional, function, and physical problems for teenagers. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 3.2 million Americans between 12 and 17 years old have had at least one major depressive episode in 2017, this makes up approximately 13.3% of the population, although that number is thought to have risen to as much as 1 in 25 teenagers. It is also thought that females are three times more likely to suffer from teenage depression and frighteningly a study by the CDC revealed that suicide is the third leading cause of death between 12-19 years olds. Teenage depression is an ever-growing epidemic amongst young people that is gaining more traction, particularly in light of the recent pandemic experienced by teenagers all over the world.
What causes teenage depression?
Understanding the causes of teenage depression is one of the best ways to start identifying difficulties teenagers may be having and steps you can take to help them or positively address the causes. There are a number of factors that could cause teenage depression. For some, it can be that genes and biological factors play a part, whereas, for others, it is external environmental and social conditions that influence or exacerbate depression amongst teenagers. Some of the external factors that can cause depression are as follows;
- Mental and physical health conditions, including disabilities and long-term illnesses. Teenagers who suffer from physical or mental health conditions can be prone to depression. The associated struggles with these conditions can affect teenagers’ confidence, way of life, socializing, academic, or even physical abilities.
- Sadly being bullied is an all too common factor in causing teenage depression. Bullying can lead to low self-esteem, low mood, and fear, and unhappiness amongst teenagers.
- Stressful or difficult experiences. Teenagers who have suffered trauma in their past are often susceptible to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These experiences can range from anything, from grief to violence to abuse.
- Social media. Social media can play a huge part in the mental well-being of teenagers and should be monitored closely. It can affect a teenager’s self-esteem and body confidence as a result of the comparison to online accounts. Online interactions can also negatively impact teenagers as they may be unkind or insensitive in nature and neither do they provide the same benefit as in-person contact.
- Insufficient social network. Teenagers may feel isolated or as though they do not have strong social support to deal with issues affecting them. This can then lead to loneliness, isolation, and anxiety resulting in teenage depression.
- Difficult homelife. Some teenagers may experience a difficult homelife whereby financial, emotional, or physical struggles that can negatively impact them.
- None of the above. There are of course those times and those teenagers who cannot identify a singular causal factor that leads to depression. Unfortunately, it is something that they suffer from without a clear and identifiable reason. Although rare, it is noteworthy, just because you cannot identify a cause does not mean that depression is absent.
Symptoms of teenage depression
When it comes to identifying symptoms of teenage depression, there are some signs to look out for. First and foremost, looking for changes in a teenager’s attitude or behavior can indicate. For some, the changes in behavior may be slight and gradual whereas in others you may notice a stark alternation. Some of the changes to be mindful of are; feelings of sadness, which can include crying for seemingly no apparent reason. Feelings of irritation or anger, again which may be unexplainable or for little reason. A lack of interest or pleasure in their usual activities, feelings of worthlessness, or low self-esteem.
Some behavioral changes may indicate that something is amiss. These can include any of the following; lethargy, loss of energy and increased sleeping, insomnia, increased or decreased appetite, which may affect their weight. Complaints of inexplainable aches and pains, alcohol or drug use, withdrawal and self-isolation, or self-harm or suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Of course, it is accepted that the teenage years are difficult ones and nearly all teenagers may at some point exhibit one or more of the above symptoms without it leading to a diagnosis of teenage depression. Bad moods and acting out is almost a right of passage through those tumultuous teenage years, the difficulty comes when trying to differentiate between the typical teenage mood swings and the symptoms of depression. To help do this, the best thing you can do is to try to talk to your teenager and determine if there are any indications of problems that may have led to any of the typical signs of depression you’ve noted. Write down the changes in behavior and keep track of them over a period of time to determine if they persist or are fleeting. The adverse effects of teenage depression will outlast a low mood or a passing display of poor behavior. Remember, you know your teenager and what is normal for them, and if you have any concerns, then speak out.
Helping a depressed teenager
When it comes to depression, sadly, there is no way to prevent it, but the good news is, it can be treated.
Before seeking professional help just being able to recognize and identify signs of depression in teenagers is vital. Becoming familiar with some of the potential causes and symptoms will help both parents and teenagers acknowledge that they may be suffering from depression. Depression can become very damaging if left untreated so once these symptoms and causes have been identified, trying to raise these concerns with teenagers is a great next step.
Discussing potential depression with your teen may not be an easy feat, and it may be met with some resistance but trying to do so in a loving and non-judgmental way may help to ease the process. Initiating a dialogue with your teen is the first step to helping them identify that there may be a problem that needs help. Asking a teenager to open up and discuss matters can be daunting but just make sure you are prepared to listen and braced for any answer you may get, even if you don’t get one in the first instance. The very fact that an interest or concern is being shown to the teenager may be enough to spark some small improvement in their mood or help them to recognize that things might not be quite right. Where possible refrain from asking too many questions and allow the teen to do the talking, the best thing you can do is listen and provide any support they may need.
On a practical note, some steps can be taken to improve teenager’s physical health, which will play a part in improving their mental health. It has long been proven that depression is exacerbated by poor nutrition, inactivity, and inadequate sleep, all of which can be common features in a teenager’s life. So getting on top of some of these lifestyle factors can greatly improve a teenager’s mood and depressive tendencies.
Encouraging exercise and movement is a fantastic ways to help teenagers suffering from depression. Exercise comes in many forms and can be woven into daily life in a plethora ways. It could be riding a bike to school, skateboarding, ice skating, or dancing. Anything that they enjoy, gets the heart rate a little higher, and the endorphins kicking in will have a positive impact on your teen and their mood.
Next up is to focus on ensuring teenagers get sufficient sleep. Teenagers need more sleep than adults and it is not just by coincidence that they can be difficult to rise in the mornings. Encouraging early nights and an optimum nine to ten hours sleep a night will help ensure that teenagers are getting sufficient sleep. As well as decreasing the amount of screen time, especially before bed.
The third and final practical step to take to improve physical health is to keep an eye on their diet. While it is accepted that teenagers have a penchant for fast food and sugary drinks it is important to try and limit these where possible, or at least ensure they are balanced out with nutritious meals that support brain, heart, and physical health. Too many sugary foods may provide a quick pick me up but will only have a negative impact on teens’ long-term mood and energy levels.
Finally, know when to seek professional help
Encouraging a healthy lifestyle and openly discussing thoughts and feelings with teenagers is paramount in the journey to helping them overcome depression but there will come a point where the impact is thwarted, and only professional help will suffice. If symptoms do not appear to be improving or are worsening, then it is time to consider external help.
Mental health professionals specializing in treating teenagers will have advanced training and a strong background in treating young people. They will be the best person for the job and may be able to reach out to teenagers in ways that parents and concerned friends or relatives cannot.
When it comes to seeking professional help, there will be a number of options available, and it is always advised that these options are thoroughly explored. Commonly teenagers are encouraged to partake in talk therapy. During talk therapy, a therapist will enable a teenager to put their feelings into words and talk through these difficult feelings and emotions and how best to deal with them. The act of talking alone can have a positive impact on teen depression but it will often be combined with teaching techniques regarding identifying depression and coping skills to deal with depression. The result should be to enable teenagers to better identify and manage symptoms of depression as and when they are experiencing them.
There may be times where talk therapy is not quite sufficient in dealing with teenage depression and as such medication may be considered. Whether medication is the right course of action will be subjective to the teenager, their treatment plan, and other personal contributing factors, all of which will be thoroughly discussed with the treating professionals, the teenager, and close family members.
When it comes to the treatment choices available for teenagers, it is always recommended that the teenager’s input, thoughts and feelings be considered. The aim is to ensure that teenagers are engaged in their treatment plan and can reap the maximum reward. In order for this to be achieved, it is vital that teenagers feel comfortable with the treatment offered and of course the person offering it. Your teen is unlikely to open up and engage in talk therapy if they do not trust or connect with the therapist so be sure to talk through all of the options with your teen and listen to what they want.
Once undergoing professional help, you can still have a part to play. Those supporting teenagers should stay involved in the treatment and track progress or lack of. Professional treatment is not an overnight fix and it shouldn’t be expected that teenagers will be alleviated from depression instantaneously, so patience and long-term support from parents are strongly advised.
Watching a teenager you love and care for experience depression is difficult and destressing. Although you may not be able to fix all the problems with a wave of a magic wand or kiss them better like you did when they were toddlers arming yourself with as much information and knowledge as possible can help you help them. Being able to recognize depression, offer support, and seek help where it is needed are the best steps you can take to help any teenager experiencing depression.