The teen years are typically filled with a wide range of moods and behaviors. However, if your teen appears locked into negative feelings like sadness, anger or withdrawal from family and friends, a more serious problem may be the culprit. Depression is a widespread problem among teens, affecting as many as one in five adolescents. It is important for parents to learn to recognize symptoms of teen depression and seek out professional help their child may need.
Occurrence of Depression in Teens
The average onset of depression in teenagers occurs between 15 and 19. During the early stages of adolescence, depression strikes boys and girls at approximately the same rate. After puberty, the depression rate increases significantly for female teens. Nearly one-third of teens with depression will also develop a substance abuse disorder, often as an attempt to “self-medicate” their depression symptoms.
The large majority of teens with depression (as many as 80 percent) will not seek treatment for their illness. Untreated depression can lead to other problems, including bullying, substance abuse, academic failure and eating disorders. Of the adolescents that do receive some type of treatment, up to 70 percent will see improvement in their symptoms.
Symptoms of Teen Depression
Depression in teenagers may look slightly different than depression in adults. Some of the signs of teen depression might include:
- Irritability or hostility
- Sadness or feelings of hopelessness
- Noticeable changes to eating habits
- Sleep changes or disruptions
- Weight fluctuations
- Poor performance in school
- Constant fatigue, loss of energy
- Overly sensitive to criticism, low self-esteem
- Withdrawal from family, friends and activities
- Unexplained physical pain (often headaches or stomachaches)
- Suicidal thoughts and ideations
Depression and Suicide
Depression can increase a teenager’s risk for suicide by as much as 12 times. Teens in this situation may begin to say things like, “I’d be better off dead,” or “I want to just disappear.” Other signs might include giving away valued possessions, writing about death or suicidal threats.
If your teen shows any signs suicide may be imminent, do not wait to get help. While some teens may “attempt” suicide to gain attention, a disturbing number of those adolescents actually succeed. Suicide hotlines and mental health professionals trained to deal with suicidal teens can make the difference between life and death.
Treatment for teen depression typically begins with talk therapy that provides teens a safe place to explore feelings and emotions. Therapy can also help teenagers work on difficult relationships with parents or peers, and help them change negative thinking patterns into positive thinking and behavior. In some cases, medication may also be recommended, but this approach nearly always works better when it is combined with some type of talk therapy.
If your depressed teen is also showing signs of substance abuse, it is important to address the substance abuse disorder simultaneously with the depression. At Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, our staff is trained to work with teens with a dual diagnosis – a combination of a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder. To learn more, contact Visions today at 866-889-3665.