Many experts believe that January is one of the worst months of the year for depression. Suicide rates actually increase every year during the winter months. Perhaps January is difficult because the holidays have ended, and maybe they were not as “perfect” as you thought they should have been. Maybe January’s cold weather or decreased sunlight makes it harder to fight off the blues. Regardless of the reason, depression is tough to beat. Experts say that 1 out of every 8 teens has depression, but only 20% of depressed teens ever receive help.
While adults can simply go see a professional when things don’t feel right, youth must rely on parents, teachers, or other caregivers to recognize their suffering and get them the treatment they need. So if you have an adolescent in your life, it’s important to learn what teen depression looks like and what to do if you spot the warning signs.
What Are the Symptoms of Depression?
Teenagers face a host of pressures, from the changes of puberty to questions about who they are to asserting their independence with their parents. With all this drama, it can be difficult to distinguish between depression and normal teenage moodiness. Adding to the confusion, teens with depression do not necessarily appear sad, nor do they always withdraw from others. For some depressed teens, symptoms of irritability, aggression, and rage are more prominent. Sometimes the only sign is a noticeable change in their thinking and behavior. They may have no motivation, sleep excessively, have a change in eating habits, or even exhibit criminal behaviors, such as underage drinking or shoplifting.
While everyone experiences sadness or discouragement from time to time, depression involves sadness or hopelessness that lasts for weeks and may not have a defined cause. It drains a person’s energy level, motivation, concentration, and ability to enjoy life. Because self-critical thinking is part of depression, some people might not realize that they are depressed, and instead, think they are simply lazy, a bad student, a quitter, or a failure. Depression can also cause a person to spiral into other problems as well, such as an eating disorder or cutting. (You can learn more about these topics on our previous blogs: Teen Eating Disorders and Cutting.)
Symptoms that people have when they’re depressed can include:
- sadness most of the time (for what may seem like no reason)
- lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- inability to enjoy things that used to bring pleasure
- withdrawal from friends and family
- irritability, anger, or anxiety
- inability to concentrate and/or memory loss
- significant weight loss or gain
- significant change in sleep patterns (inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get up in the morning)
- irresponsible behavior — for example, forgetting obligations, being late for classes, skipping school or sudden drop in grades
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- difficulty making decisions
- complaints of pains, including headaches, stomachaches, low back pain, or fatigue (with no known medical cause)
- pessimism and indifference (not caring about anything in the present or future)
- thoughts of death or suicide
When someone has five or more of these symptoms most of the time for over a month, that person is probably depressed.
Helping a depressed teenager
If you suspect that a teenager in your life is suffering from depression, take action right away. Many times, adults do not feel certain that the youth they’re concerned about is depressed and are afraid of making things worse or they hope that the symptoms will just go away. But, even if the troublesome behaviors and emotions you’re seeing are not depression, they are signs of a problem that needs to be addressed. Depression is very damaging when left untreated, but it’s also one of the most treatable conditions. Therapists and other professionals can help. In fact, about 80% of people who get help for their depression have a better quality of life.
Depression does NOT just go away on its own, and someone cannot just “shake it off.” Your child MUST see a doctor and/or therapist to get the help that they need.