A Parent’s Guide to Teenage Depression

Being a teen is hard. As the old saying goes, “Always treat a teen like they are in pain and you will almost always be right.” Amid all their angst, moodiness, isolation, irritability, and obsession with strange new friends, how can a parent tell if they are depressed or just being a teen?

There is both hope and help available as long as you stay informed. Here is a list of behaviors to be aware of, all of which may be present in a healthy teenager from time to time. It could be depression if these behaviors become severe, persist for several months, or represent a marked departure from their established personality.

  • Irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Recurrent crying
  • Isolation
  • Loss of interest in things they enjoyed
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Guilt or worthlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Most teens are dependent on parents and other adults for access to medical care, so they may not even know what resources are available. It is up to you to discover what is wrong and to decide how to treat it.

3 Suggestions for Talking to Your Teen

You are the first line of defense, and there are 3 things you can do to improve the situation immediately.

  1. Make time to listen – Despite how difficult it is to set aside time to discuss feelings, you will have to make this a priority. Don’t pummel them with questions, but do make it clear that you are able and willing to set aside time to talk to them with your full attention. It is a fine line to be persistent without badgering. They will probably rebuff your attempts to reach out at first because the topic is so difficult for them and they don’t want to be disappointed.
  2. Don’t minimize – If you do get them to talk, your initial reaction may be that their problems are ridiculous or trivial. Their problems may not even make sense to you. What matters is they are feeling sad and hurt. Acknowledge and try to sympathize with the pain, no matter what the cause.
  3. No lectures – Resist the temptation to provide solutions. They are coming to you for comfort not asking for advice. They will be very sensitive to criticism, so try not to judge them in order to keep the lines of communication open.

Medical Options

As soon as you suspect depression may be involved, make an appointment with a doctor for a depression screening. The doctor will want to know what behavior patterns you have noticed and how long this has been going on. If there is any medical history of depression in your family, volunteer it now and don’t wait to be asked.

If your teen is diagnosed with depression, get them involved with the treatment options and take your time in making the right choice. Many parents report feeling pressured into accepting a treatment involving medication. Learn about side effects and options for talk therapy before exposing your teen to the risks of medication.

The most important step in helping your teen has already begun: Educating yourself. Learn about what depression is, offer support, and try to open up a dialog with them. The strongest weapon to combat depression is hope.

Posted by CJ Newton, MA, Therapists.com Editor on April 3, 2012 at 05:00 AM

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