Is your teen going through a normal rough patch, or is professional help needed?
All moms want their kids to be happy, so when our teens have the blues, it is natural for us to want to make them feel better. If your teen is showing a sudden change in behavior or mood, or has gradually slipped into a gloomy or apathetic state, how do you know if it’s just typical doldrums or a condition that requires the help of a professional?
It’s normal for kids to exhibit a wide range of emotions, but thoser that are occuring on a daily basis can be signs of depression, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM-5, the mental health professional’s guide to diagnosing mental illness. Here’s a list of symptoms to look for:
Depressed mood or irritability. Some people who suffer from depression are sad and weepy, while others are irritable and angry. It is also important to note that if your teen is grieving the loss of a relative, friend, pet, or other acquaintance, it is normal to be very sad and distressed.
Decreased enjoyment in most activities. Some teens with depression appear apathetic, which is somewhat paradoxical, since depression is often equated with more visible displays of emotion. Pay attention if your teen no longer derives pleasure from his favorite activities.
Inexplicable weight gain or weight loss. If your child just started an exercise program, he might lose or gain weight, depending on his goals, but a change in body mass can also be a sign of emotional distress.
Sleeping too little or too much. Let’s face it, teenagers’ sleep patterns can be wacky, especially if they are up late studying (or killing time on social media). If your child starts sleeping much more—or much less—than she has in the past, this could be cause for concern, particularly if the change in sleep pattern is interfering with her overall functioning.
Fidgeting or sluggishness. Does your child appear fidgety or hyperactive? Is your child moving slowly? Both can be symptoms of depression. Fidgeting and sluggishness alone, however, should not be causes for concern. You are looking for a combination of frequently occurring symptoms.
Fatigue or loss of energy. Again, most teens with busy schedules are sluggish and tired. Many are balancing academics, sports schedules, and other extracurricular activities. Combine a jam-packed schedule with an early start to their school day, and most teens do not appear chipper and energetic. Still, extreme fatigue or fatigue that interferes with your teen’s daily functioning is something to take note of.
Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt. Most adolescents struggle with self-esteem, particularly as they transition into adulthood and forge an identity independent of you. It is a complicated time in their lives; however, there is a difference between teenage insecurity and feelings of worthlessness. If your child does not value himself, feels like he is a burden, and/or expresses irrational or delusional guilt, these are red flags.
Difficulty thinking or concentrating. Depression can masquerade as other disorders, including attention-deficit disorder. People struggling with depression also have trouble concentrating. Has there been a sudden drop in your child’s grades? Does she complain about not being able to complete assignments that were once manageable?
Recurrent thoughts of death. When troubling events happen in the world, it is normal to think about our own mortality. Frequent thoughts of death, self-harm, and suicide, however, are huge red flags and require immediate intervention, particularly if you sense your child has a plan and the means to kill himself.
If you are thinking some of the above symptoms describe your teen, there is no reason to panic. Exhibiting some or even many of these symptoms from time to time is not necessarily cause for alarm. Everyone is entitled to a bad day, lazy weekend, or pity party every once in awhile.
Remember, too, that a variety of physical ailments or a disruptive life event can cause depression-like symptoms. Have a conversation with your child to glean as much information as you can, and make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to rule out any physical cause for your child’s symptoms. A mental health professional can also be helpful in ensuring your child is accurately diagnosed and gets the help she needs.
Danielle Bostick, a former Solo Mom and ESME’s Wellness–Mental Health Resource Guide, is a Latin teacher, an advocate, and a mom to six kids in Winchester, Virginia. When not working as an educator, Bostick writes about the National Football League for various sites and sexual assault and child sexual abuse for the Huffington Post. You can find her on Twitter: @danibostick, and on Facebook: Dani Bostick.
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