As young people enter their teen years, parents become concerned about possible issues they will face — substance abuse, peer pressure and sexual behaviors, to name a few. However, they might overlook a common problem — teen depression. Research shows that about 13 percent of teens suffer from depression, but, of these, only 20 percent receive help.
Teen depression can affect every area of a young person’s life – physical, emotional, academic, social and mental. The factors that contribute to depression can worsen as depression worsens, resulting in a vicious cycle. In addition, teens might face an additional risk of depression because of hormones, circumstances and other issues that affect them.
Some young people face a greater risk of depression if they suffer from the following factors:
- Related conditions, such as other mental health issues, including anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder or a personality disorder
- Struggles with self-esteem, such as bullying, peer pressure, educational challenges or obesity
- Physical disabilities
- Serious health issues, such as asthma, diabetes or cancer
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia
- Substance abuse, including nicotine
- Dysfunction in the family, including conflict
- Past violence, either personal or a witness to domestic violence, sexual abuse or physical violence
- Stressful life circumstances, such as frequent moves, divorce or a family death or suicide
- Learning challenges or attention-deficit or hyperactivity disorder
- Having a close family relative who has been diagnosed with alcoholism, depression or bipolar disorder
- Homosexual, bisexual or transgender, especially if the teen has little support
- Some personality traits, including low self-esteem, high codependence, self-criticism or extreme negativity.
Signs of Teen Depression
Watch for the following signs of possible teen depression:
- An observable change in behavior, such as lack of motivation and extreme withdrawal from family and friends
- Changes in eating habits and excessive sleep
- Juvenile delinquency, such as shoplifting or DUI
- Memory loss
- Self-blame and guilt
- Drastic drop in grades
- Dangerous behavior, including drinking, drug use and sexual promiscuity
- Complaints of fatigue or generalized pain
- Upset sleeping patterns
- Blatant rebellion
- Struggles with decision-making and concentration
- Feeling overwhelmed and hopeless
- Loss of memory
- Extreme weight fluctuations
- Irresponsibility regarding school and other obligations
- Fixation with death and dying.
However, your teen might demonstrate only a few of these warning signs.
Long-Term Effects if Depression Is not Addressed
Failure to address depression can affect teens both short- and long-term. Short-term effects include weight loss, sleep fluctuations or other physical issues. Long-term effects might include memory loss, lethargy, obesity or malnutrition. In extreme cases, depression contributes to suicide and is a factor in about two-thirds of cases when a person takes his or her life.
How to Talk to a Depressed Teen
If you are trying to talk to and connect with a depressed adolescent, take the following steps:
- Empathize with his or her feelings. Do not minimize negative emotions. Instead acknowledge what he or she says and provide support and understanding.
- Listen to his or her concerns without saying anything judgmental or critical. You want your teen to share openly. Express your unconditional love even if your teen faces consequences for inappropriate behavior.
- Your teen might not be able to verbalize his or her emotions. Let him or her know that you are available and willing to listen. Help him or her express himself through patient yet persistence determination to find the root of the problem.
- If you feel that something is “off,” don’t ignore your gut. If your child won’t talk to you about the problem, contact a trusted spiritual counsel, a medical professional or a school counselor. He or she needs to talk about their struggles.
Solutions for Teen Depression
One of the leading causes of disability for Americans between the ages of 15 and 44 is major depressive disorder. Catching the problem and early intervention helps improve the person’s overall mental health.
Your primary care physician can refer you to a mental health care provider who will pursue a course of treatment using one or more of the following:
- Family therapy — The teen might benefit from feeling the support of family and school professionals, especially if the depression is related to grades or peer issues
- Medication — While controversial, prescriptions can help combat depression in teens. The Mayo Clinic reported that the most effective treatment option was using a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication, specifically Prozac. The study compared combination therapy with the use of just medication and just cognitive behavioral therapy in a 12-week study. In rare cases, antidepressants can increase the possibility of suicide in some patients. Therefore, these medications should not be used without careful monitoring.
- Hospitalization — In some cases, a teen might need to be hospitalized in a psychiatric unit for severe depression.
How Parents Can Help
Gone are the days when parents told their teens to behave without providing any type of rationale or reasoning. Teens need to understand why rules are in place even when they don’t agree. Effective communication with your young person will help you both during this admittedly difficult time. The following parenting strategies can help:
- Listen to his or her problems even if they don’t seem serious to you.
- Avoid shame-based parenting. Instead of focusing on blame, which affects self-worth, focus on behaviors. Emphasize that behaviors do not determine your child’s worth, but use positive reinforcement when your teen makes the right choices.
- Realize that your child will make mistakes. However, let them experience the related consequences. For example, if he or she drinks and drives, he can suffer the loss of driving privileges.
- Let your child live his own life without forcing your lost dreams on him or her.
- Understand that your teen will need to find his own way and might not follow your rules.
- Offer suggestions without becoming heavy handed in discipline.
- Have an open door policy even when your child seems withdrawn.
- Involve a third party if your teen is open to the suggestion.
If you are still concerned and feel that you aren’t getting through to your child, talk to a qualified mental health professional.