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What You Need to Know About Adolescent Depression

Could your son or daughter be depressed, but you’re unsure of the signs?

How can you recognize the signs and better understand depression?

And, if your child is depressed what do you do?

Most of us have been affected by depression, either personally, with an adolescent, family member, or friend. Often, parents who have a child struggling with depression aren’t sure what to do or where to turn for help. As a parent who has been there, I understand the overwhelming feelings that come with having a child who is depressed. It’s important to recognize the signs and understand what depression really is so you can get both the help your child needs and you need in order to better support your child.

In this article, I hope to provide you with the answers to some of your questions and offer resources that will help you get the support you and your child need.

The statistics, from Erika’s Lighthouse*, show that teens with depression are not alone.

  • Between 15-20% of teens will suffer from at least on depressive episode before they reach adulthood.
  • Treatment for depression is available and effective, but more than 80% of people never receive treatment due to stigma – feelings of shame that leads to isolation, hopelessness and barriers for those who need treatment.

The good news is there is hope and help. Treatment is available and effective. If you have a child who may be suffering with depression, getting the support and treatment for them is key.

The first step is to learn about depression so you can help.

Understanding Depression:

  • It’s more than having a bad couple of days.
  • It is a diagnosable mental illness with specific changes in moods, thoughts and behaviors over a period of time.
  • Depression can run in families or be triggered by stress.
  • It can look different in different people and vary in intensity.
  • It is characterized by chemical and physical changes in the brain.
  • It is diagnosed by having at least five symptoms most of the day, every day, for two weeks or more.
  • There is a noticeable problem with day-to-day functioning (i.e. school, work, relationships) that is different from what is considered “normal” for a person.

Symptoms include:

  • Change in mood: depressed or irritable
  • Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities
  • Significant weight change or change in appetite
  • Change in sleep: sleeping too much or too little
  • Change in activity: feeling sped up or slowed down
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Negative self-perception: feeling worthless or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Problem thinking clearly: diminished ability to think, concentrate or indecisiveness
  • Suicidality: thoughts of death or suicide or acts of self-harm

Common behavioral changes that can indicate depression:

  • Using drugs or alcohol
  • Problems getting to school
  • A drop in grades
  • Physical aches and pains
  • A change in friends
  • Running away
  • Reckless behavior
  • Lack of attention to appearance or hygiene
  • Aggression

teen depressionIt’s important to know:

In some cases, you may not recognize your child is depressed because the true depth of a person’s depression is experienced on the inside. For someone on the outside, depression can look like normal mood swings, laziness, underachievement, social problems or even other illnesses.

Depression is Treatable:

The most common and effective treatments include talk therapy, and for some people, medication if talk therapy alone is not enough.

Lifestyle changes such as proper sleep, exercise, a healthy diet and other coping skills can make an enormous difference in alleviating the symptoms of depression.

Early intervention is Important.

If you suspect your child may be struggling with depression, talk to your pediatrician. Don’t wait. The sooner you help your child to feel better the less likely they will abuse drugs or alcohol, engage in self-harming behaviors, and experience relationship, school or work difficulties. Untreated depression can lead to suicide so don’t take it lightly. Depression is the single largest risk factor to suicide—90-98% of all people who die by suicide were diagnosed with mental illness, the most common being depression.

There is Hope and Healing.

I’m grateful to say that after finding the right support and professional treatment, my child is happy, healthy and thriving today.

I encourage you to initially respond by listening to your child. Stay calm (and that’s not always easy). If you’re feeling upset, before you talk to your child, talk to a close friend so you are able to be grounded and less reactive during your talk. Ask open-ended questions and find out how things are going. Provide space for your child to respond and listen carefully. Be cautious not to judge. Don’t offer advice, just listen. The more you can listen, the more willing they will be to open up to you. Ask them about the pressures they are facing. Be curious to hear from them honestly.

If your child is in fact suffering from depression, don’t wait to get help. Some kids might at first resist the help they need, but chances are, they will thank you someday (mine did several years later after hating me for a time). When we see our children in pain and address it, they may not like it, but deep down they know our actions are out of love.

Also, see the Erika’s Lighthouse resource I provide below. The site offers excellent information on how to talk to your teen. They believe “when teens know about depression, they are more likely to get the help they need, and deserve.”

There is an abundance of help available. Talk to your doctor and if you aren’t satisfied with one professional, keep looking until you and your teen are satisfied and comfortable with the provider.

There is hope for you to get through this struggle and your child can feel better in order to move on to live a healthy, happy and productive life.

Statistics and information taken from Erika’s Lighthouse

Download a Free Parent Handbook on Childhood and Teen Depression to find out more

If you or someone you know has harmed his or herself or is in immediate risk of harm, CALL 911 immediately. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, CALL the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or, TEXT the Crisis Text Line by texting “LISTEN” to 741-741.

*Eriks’s Lighthouse is a non-profit organization that helps adolescents, families, and communities understand depression, symptoms and behavioral changes.

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