Depression is a mental health disorder that may be experienced at almost any stage of life. While there are common symptoms between adults and teenagers with this mental illness, the natural fluctuations of mood and behavior during adolescence can make it harder to identify in young people. Learning more about how depression can manifest in teenagers can equip you to take the appropriate measures if you ever notice concerning symptoms in your adolescent child.
What Is Depression?
Depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD), is a mental illness that affects one in seven people between the ages of 10 and 19 globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
When a person experiences multiple MDD symptoms that last for more than two weeks, a mental health professional may diagnose them with the disorder. From there, they can recommend a treatment plan that's tailored to the individual. It’s important to note that depression is a serious condition that’s unlikely to resolve on its own without treatment.
Symptoms Of Depression In Teenagers
People go through many changes in almost every area of life during their adolescent years. As such, they may exhibit symptoms from the list below but not have a mental health disorder; they may simply be experiencing the tumult that can come with growing up. So how do you know when your teen may actually have depression? First, doing what you can to keep the lines of communication open with them can help. If you’ve shown them that you can be a nonjudgmental listener, they’re more likely to come to you if they feel they have a problem. Next, pay special attention to whether these symptoms seem to be interfering with your child’s daily functioning. If their schoolwork is slipping, their chores or personal hygiene no longer get taken care of, and they no longer seem motivated to hang out with friends or do things they love, these may be cause for concern.
Note that a mental health professional typically requires that multiple symptoms be present for more than two weeks to qualify as MDD. If you’re unsure, seeking the advice of a licensed professional is usually a wise next step—especially since symptoms of depression may overlap with those of other mental health disorders, such as bipolar or a personality disorder. Remember, only a trained mental health professional can offer an accurate diagnosis. In general, however, these are most common symptoms of depression in teenagers:
Feeling sad and hopeless
Intensely negative thoughts
Being overly critical of themselves
Inability to concentrate
Trouble making decisions
Feelings of worthlessness
Significant fluctuations in sleep or eating habits
No longer showing interest in activities once enjoyed
Withdrawing or self-isolating
Symptoms That May Require Immediate Action
While the major depression symptoms listed above can be alarming for any parent or guardian, certain symptoms may be a more significant cause for concern and require them to take action right away. For example, if you’ve discovered that your teenager has begun to self-harm, be preoccupied with death, express suicidal thoughts, or engage in suicidal attempts, it’s usually crucial to get them immediate support. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by dialing 988 and is available 24/7. Connecting your child with a mental health professional who specializes in adolescents is typically the immediate next course of action.
Treatment For Depression In Teenagers
As with many other mental health issues, the treatment for depression in teens often involves psychotherapy—sometimes in combination with medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common types of psychotherapy for those experiencing depression. It’s based on the idea that thoughts cause feelings and behaviors, so the goal of practicing it is to help the individual recognize and shift flawed or otherwise unhelpful thought patterns. A trained therapist can guide your teenager through this process over time, in addition to giving them a safe space to explore difficult emotions and helping them identify strategies for managing their symptoms.
It’s important to note that teenagers often fare better during mental health treatment when their needs and opinions are taken into account in the process. One study found that teenagers are more likely to accept treatment—and therefore benefit from it—when their provider makes an effort to establish rapport, learn information about their disorder, and include them in the decision making process. Both the teenager and their parents or guardians should be comfortable with the treatment plan that the provider lays out for them. If any party has a concern about some part of it, they should feel free to disseminate it.
Tips That Can Help Increase Treatment Effectiveness
There are a variety of other lifestyle changes that may help your teenager better manage their symptoms and allow their treatment to be more effective. If your teen has been diagnosed with depression, supporting them in developing healthy habits like the following can be helpful. If your teen is not currently experiencing any symptoms of a mental illness, encouraging them to prioritize the following can still help them remain in good mental health.
Get regular exercise. Getting enough physical activity can offer both teens and adults a host of physical and mental health benefits. It’s well-known to be a mood-booster, especially when done outside in the sun. Additionally, some studies even suggest that exercise promotes nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, which may help relieve or reduce symptoms of depression.
Lean on loved ones. Studies show that having a strong social support system is associated with a lower risk of both physical and mental health problems, from heart disease and obesity to anxiety and depression.
Get enough sleep. Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night to fuel the growth and changes their bodies and minds are going through. Enough rest can be helpful in seeing things with a more balanced perspective and having more control over one’s emotions.
Eat well. Research also shows that eating a balanced, nutritious diet can help reduce symptoms of depression. According to the experts, it should include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and should limit processed foods for best results.
How Therapy Can Make A Difference
As mentioned above, psychotherapy will typically be part of your teenager’s treatment plan if they’re diagnosed with depression. In-person therapy is the traditional option. If your teen prefers this method, you can look for a provider in your local area. If they’d feel more comfortable with a virtual option, you might consider an online therapy platform like TeenCounseling. With your consent, it can match your child with a provider they can meet with via phone, video call, and/or online chat. Since research shows that in-person and online therapy can offer similar benefits, your teenager can choose the format that feels right for them. Note, however, that for severe cases, virtual therapy may not be a recommended option.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Is The Main Cause Of Depression Among The Youth?
Truthfully, there are many potential causes of depression among adolescents. Issues such as low self-esteem, peer pressure, academic pressure, and bullying can all contribute to mental health issues.
These mental health issues can also be caused by trouble at home. Just about any type of stress has the potential to cause mental health issues such as MDD. If your teen’s behavior seems off, then it’s possible that they might be depressed.
You can’t determine what is causing the depression until you look at the situation closer to see what is happening. Family conflict can sometimes cause poor mental health, and even a family history of MDD can play a role. Something as simple as fighting with a friend or family could be a sign of MDD in a teenager. Mental disorders like this are tough to cope with alone, and need assistance.
What Are Signs Of Anxiety In A Teenager?
The signs of anxiety can be subtle, or they can be very pronounced. Each person experiences anxiety a little bit differently, and you can’t say for sure how difficult something is for your child. Mental health issues such as anxiety can be very problematic for adolescents, and your child will need support to get through this. Thankfully, anxiety is a treatable condition and can be managed with medications and therapy, just like depression.
Seeking out health treatment is very important when you’re going through anxiety issues. Anxiety can make it tough to get through life. Having the support of family is great when you’re experiencing anxiety, but adolescents do need professional help as well. Seek out health treatment services so that your teen can mitigate anxiety symptoms.
Does My Teenager Have A Mental Illness?
If your teenager is exhibiting some of these symptoms, then they might have a mental illness. However, it’s important to note that it isn’t up to you to make that determination. You cannot self-diagnose a mental illness, and your child needs to be evaluated by a mental health professional. If you suspect that your child is struggling with mental health issues such as MDD or anxiety, then making an appointment with their doctor is for the best.
Your family doctor can handle diagnosis, treatment, and determining how else to move forward. Don’t assume that your children have mental illnesses without checking with a doctor. Children of all ages need to be diagnosed properly so that they can receive the right treatment. Your doctor will be happy to provide the health services that you need, and you can go forward from there.
Is It Normal To Have Mood Swings As A Teenager?
Yes, mood swings can occur as a normal part of adolescent life. Teenagers are going through changes, and they can experience hormonal issues that will make them irritable sometimes. It isn’t unusual to see someone who is going through puberty to change a bit in terms of attitude. This can also present itself as mood swings, but you should note that mood swings can also be indicative of mental health issues.
Essentially, you can’t point to just mood swings when you’re suspecting that your child is depressed or experiencing anxiety. There are many reasons why adolescents exhibit mood swings. You have to look at the other symptoms of depression or anxiety while also considering the context of what is going on in your teen’s life. You can help your teen whether they are dealing with normal mood swings or if they’re struggling with mental health issues. Just contact the right health treatment services to get things going.
Which Age Group Is The Most Depressed?
This doesn’t mean that other age groups are unlikely to experience this disorder, though. Teens can go through mental health struggles just as easily as adults can, and they need health treatment services that they can rely on.
What Happens In The Brain During Depression?
MDD also has the potential to enlarge the amygdala. This is the part of the brain that handles emotional responses such as fear and pleasure. Having an enlarged amygdala can cause sleep problems, and it can also interrupt activity patterns. Sometimes the body might release more hormones than usual, too, which can complicate things even more.
You can see that MDD has a big impact on the brain, and this is why it’s so important to seek out health treatment services. You need to be able to get the help that you need so that you can move forward. MDD is treatable, and you can turn to health treatment services to figure things out. When MDD is being treated properly, it makes it much easier to avoid the complications mentioned above. Seek out the treatment services that your teen needs today.
What Age Does Mental Illness Start?
There isn’t necessarily an age where mental illness will start. There are some cases where children will experience mental health issues. You might find that some people will start to struggle with mental health problems when they reach their teenage years, while others won’t have issues until they’re well into adulthood. It’s a case-by-case type of thing, and you can pinpoint a specific age when mental illness is going to start.
Don’t assume that your children and teens are too young to go through mental health issues. Health treatment is available for children and teens who are struggling. You can turn to a doctor for diagnosis, treatment, and support even when your children are still young. Having the right treatment services available can make a difference. You should also be committed to being there for your kids. The support of family can mean the world when you’re experiencing mental health complications so young.
What Race Suffers From Depression The Most?
has shown that all races are susceptible to depression. However, it should be noted that there are some variances in the numbers. Mental disorders can be experienced by any race, but environmental and societal factors could be playing a role in producing these numbers. Either way, people need to seek health treatment when they suspect that they might be depressed.
What Gender Is More Likely To Experience Depression?
If you suspect that you’re experiencing mental health issues such as MDD, then you should seek health treatment. Sometimes men make the mistake of not seeking treatment because they fear that it will make them look weak. Men’s health is important, and this includes mental health. Don’t let your gender keep you from getting health treatment when you’re going through mental health struggles. Seeking the right health treatment now could mean the difference between coping successfully and struggling in life.
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