The recent media coverage of Bobbi Kristian Brown and the unknown circustmances of her recovery warrants addressing depression in adolescents. Often discussion of depression often leads to children and teenagers, even some adults, to describe feelings in the context of “I don’t know why I feel this way…” and the sad reality confirms this truth. Struggling with depression doesn’t warrant a cause or explanation, just understanding. Here are some guidelines that will hopefully help you and/or your adolescent understand.
Low Mood. Depression in children and adolescents often rears its sad head in the form of irritation that is not usual for your child. In addition, the teen can be viewed as “copping an attitude,” reports of feeling sad, or quick to cry. These expression of low mood can be reported by your child or witness by you, as a change in your child.
Losing Interest. Children and adolescents, suffering from depression, often discontinue engaging in activities that are pleasurable, such as listening to music, an extra-curricular activity, hanging out with friends. The child may react lethargically when presented with an activity (such as going to the movie) when normally he/she would be excited about it.
Appetite Change. Loss of appetite can be an indication that your teen is struggling with depressed feelings, while an increase in appetite could warrant the same struggle. Notice whether your teen is not eating or eating in excess more days than not, where his/her decrease/increase in appetite is not better explained by other medical conditions or concerns.
Trouble Sleeping. Normal sleep patterns for teens are sometimes difficult to navigate in general, due to working, hanging with friends, or homework. Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for nearly every day could be a warning sign. Opposite of that would be observing your child sleeping too much, as if he/she can’t get enough to sleep.
Too Tired. Is your teen reporting feelings of fatigue or loss of energy every day? Are you seeing a change in his/her motivation? This could be indication of depression.
Low Self-Esteem. Witnessing or hearing your child report feeling worthless or guilty about something in particular nearly every day could be a symptom of depression.
Difficulty Focusing. Watching your teen’s ability to concentrate, make decisions, or think straight can be a challenge for parents, especially when the teen feels he/she can’t explain the recent diminishment.
Death & Suicide. Ongoing thoughts of death and dying are scary, and teens have difficulty explaining why he/she has those in the mind. Suicidal thoughts, whether with or without intent, are immediate cause for alarm and should always be taken seriously.
Feeling sad and unmotivated one day isn’t reason to immediately consider depression. So how will you know if your adolescent is experiencing depression? Consider what and how many of the symptoms your teen displays and reports. How long do those symptoms last (an hour, days, weeks)? Are they severe enough to cause a significant change in his/her personality? While adults who feel depressed can confidentially go to a counselor, your teen doesn’t always have that option. A child/adolescent relies on his/her parent, caregiver, teacher, school counselor to notice these changes and take action to address the symptoms, ask questions, and make him/her feel validated. Ask and offer suggestions of help, including seeking out a mental health professional who can further inform you and the adolescent if his/her behavior should warrant a concern.