[I check the “search” statistics for the Single Parents site on a weekly basis, to keep up-to-date with the concerns of my readers. Sometimes I am surprised at the topics searched for; sometimes not. This week, one topic stood out: teen depression.]
There is no easy answer to the issues of teen depression. We all know – we remember it from our own teen years – the teen years are full of angst, strife, and emotion. In today’s world, all that emotion is almost considered a compliment, with titles such as “Drama Queen” or “Diva” bestowed upon those who best act the part. But how can we, as parents, tell the difference between normal teenage “extremes” and true teen depression?
It isn’t always easy, but there are signs. Mood swings are common among teens; however, lengthy periods of time where they are withdrawn, alienate themselves from friends, hide out in their rooms, and cease communication with family are signs that there is a problem. While most people define depression by sadness, tears, and inactivity, one sign of depression that no one expects is anger. Yet many people, including teens, exhibit unusual anger when depressed. This can be anger that appears to have no source and is directed at unusual target(s) and/or anger with oneself. Be aware of your teen’s moods and be ready to intervene if they are exhibiting these signs.
Changes in appetite and sleep patterns are also signs of teen depression. Again, these must be considered in light of the already unusual appetites and sleep patterns of teens. Teenage boys are usually ravenous, while teenage girls are more careful about eating, especially in front of friends. In other words, don’t make decisions based on public eating habits. Pay attention to your teen’s appetite and their eating habits at home, in their “normal” environments. Few parents realize that a teenager’s internal clocks shift shortly after puberty. Studies have shown that it is common for teens to be unable to go to sleep until 11:00 pm – midnight. Understandably, it is then harder for them to rise early in the morning for school. Just because your teen is tired and cranky, exhibiting signs of needing more sleep in the mornings before school, does not signal depression. However, sleeping more than normal – going to bed early, taking naps after school – without a logical reason could be a sign of depression.
A sudden change in grades, no longer caring about hobbies or sports that usually hold their attention, or an avoidance of friends and group activities can also be a sign of depression. Again, there are many reasons why these changes can occur, but it is very important for us, as parents, to be tuned in to the changes and to their possible causes with our teens.
All of these reasons are the “Whys” behind the great need for open lines of communications between parents and their children. Being able to talk with your teen can make getting through these times much easier on you both. Be ready to talk, but more importantly, be ready to listen – without judging or correcting. We are talking about emotions, feelings and mental health. There is no “right and wrong” when it comes to how we feel. There are different views to situations and, hopefully, we can help our teens by presenting these views, giving them options, without telling them that they are “wrong” for how they feel.
Most importantly is to know when we alone cannot help our teens. We must be willing to allow others to help and to insure the safety and health of our teens by soliciting that assistance, even when they are not willing. It can be very difficult to admit that our teen has a problem; think of how much harder it is for them! But we must teach our teens that dealing with problems rather than ignoring them is the only real way to accomplish our goals in life.
The web sites below are excellent sources for more information on teen depression, how to recognize the signs and how to find appropriate treatment. The statistics they contain on teen depression are vital information to let both you and your teen know that you are not alone in this problem. Again, if you believe that your teen might be affected by depression, please do not ignore the symptoms. Talk to your teen, watch carefully, and get help for you both!