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The Warning Signs of Teenage Depression

depressed girl

Updated on November 15, 2021

Lack of motivation? No interest in anything? 

Teenage depression is a chronic mental disorder characterized by feelings of intense sadness, which last from a few days to several weeks. But teens are so notoriously moody that sometimes parents wonder if their teens are exhibiting symptoms of depression or if it’s something that will pass soon enough.

Teen moodiness results from many factors. It’s a natural response to real physiological and psychological changes that teens are experiencing. One factor is that teens’ brains are changing during this developmental stage. According to a study conducted by Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health, teens experience what is called “brain pruning” during their adolescent years. During this process, teens lose about 1% of their

During this process, teens lose about 1% of their grey matter yearly in order to trim down the overproduction that happened during childhood (where more grey matter is needed in order to cope with the need to learn the language and improve spatial awareness and motor control).

According to studies, the last part of an adolescent brain to mature is the frontal lobe where the amygdala is found. This part of the brain is responsible for impulse control and regulating flight or fight response. It is because of this delayed development that teens may sometimes be moody, short-tempered, and impulsive.

Moodiness vs. Depression

Teenage depression is different from a bad mood and melancholy in that it impacts all aspects of a teen’s life. If left untreated, teens can get into serious trouble at home and in school and may even result in the grave tragedy such as suicide or extreme violence against others. While typical teen moodiness comes and goes, teen depression causes overwhelming sadness and a sense of despair and anger.

Most of the signs of teen depression are similar to mood swings and teen angst, except that they seem to go on for a longer period of time, are more severe, and affect their life at home and outside it.

Causes of Depression in Teens

Depression in teens can be started by numerous catalysts, many of them school related. Teens deal with several depression triggers while at school, including bullying, troubles with the workload from classes and issues stemming from friends or romantic relationships. Anxiety, anger, and avoidance of social interaction are also common amongst depressed teens. Finding out the underlying cause of why a teenager is depressed is very important in aiding in recovery. 

Understanding the Signs of Teenage Depression

Knowing the differences between a general malaise and full on depression could mean the world when it comes to how to treat the teen. Here, we hope to help you spot the signs of depression so you can help determine how to help your troubled teenager.

Warning signs of teenage depression

Most teens that suffer from depression display very obvious warning signs if you know what you’re looking for. Depressed teens often feel sad and hopeless. Some feel restless and agitated, and some feel like they are drained of all energy. They often battle with lethargy and lose interest in the activities that they used to love doing with their friends. They withdraw from their social circles at school and make excuses to avoid interacting with family members.

Warning signs can range from a change in sleep patterns to teenagers resorting to self-harming, from cutting themselves to pulling out their own hair. In cases of severe depression, they may even show symptoms of suicidal tendencies. Even if depression is a psychological condition, at times it manifests physiologically. Depressed teens often complain of aches and pains which cannot be explained.

Below are more signs that your teenager might be depressed:

  • – Continuous sad or “empty” mood 
  • – Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness 
  • – Difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making decisions 
  • – Change in sleeping habits: Insomnia, waking earlier than normal or oversleeping 
  • – Loss of appetite and weight loss or overeating and weight gain 
  • – Talking about death or suicide; suicide attempts 
  • – Irritability in mood or physical feeling 
  • – Persistent physical symptoms that do not lessen with treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, stomach aches, and chronic pain

If you notice your teen displaying any of these warning signs, talking to them is the best initial course of action. Getting your teen to open up and discuss their issues may be exactly what they need. However, sometimes the warning sign can be just the tip of the iceberg.

Depression vs. Clinical Depression

While some teens find a reason to be depressed, sometimes it’s possible that they have no reason to be depressed but they are depressed anyway. Such is the case for teens suffering from clinical depression. Clinically depressed teens cannot simply decide to pull themselves together and start feeling better. In fact, this type of depression often hinders a person from wanting to get better or wanting to get help.

The symptoms of clinical depression can be seen in emotional, behavioral and physical changes. These include sleep disturbances (oversleeping or difficulties sleeping), fatigue, unexplained physical aches and pains, loss of interest in appearance, loss of interest in usual daily activities, persistent bad mood (often times lasting for weeks), crying without any apparent reason, feelings of helplessness and worthlessness, and others.

There are three prevalent types of depression based on severity:

  • Major Depression – Showing chronic symptoms of depression that occurs a few times in a person’s lifetime
  • Dysthymia – Showing milder versions of the symptoms but bad enough to keep one from functioning normally. Symptoms usually show up in long-term situations rather than in short periods of time.
  • Bipolar Disorder – Periods of depression alternate with periods of mania or increased elation.

While nearly every teen will experience some type of depression, statistics show that four percent of teens are diagnosed with serious depression every year, proving that it is a serious issue. Noticing the many symptoms of depression early can prevent a teen from committing harm to themselves. 

The Warning Signs of Teenage Depression Troubled Teens

When to Seek Help for a Teen Showing Signs of Depression

If a teen shows a noticeable change in their behavior or appearance and exhibits any of the numerous aforementioned symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, an examination by a professional is highly suggested. From there, the psychiatrist will be able to determine the best course of action for your depressed teen.

The effects of teen depression vary depending on how teens choose to act out. At times, depression results to problems at school, drug and alcohol abuse, violence towards other people or towards one’s self, and other reckless behavior.

Depressed teens will often initially resist help from their parents or other adults. It’s dangerous to wait until the depression lifts because there’s no telling how this condition can wreak havoc in a teen’s life if left untreated. It’s advisable to consult with your family physician in order to undergo depression screening and to also rule out the possibility of coexisting disorders.

There are some disorders that usually surfaces during one’s teenage years, or there may be an existing disorder that previously went unnoticed until hormonal and emotional changes during adolescence aggravated the symptoms (such as undiagnosed ADD).

Even if your teen is not depressed, any of the above symptoms can be a sign of a larger problem and they should seek professional help.

Treatment for Depressed Teens

There are several forms of treatment for those that are diagnosed with depression. Treatment options for depression include taking antidepressants, participating in Psychotherapy sessions, going into a therapeutic boarding school, or undergoing residential treatment programs.

Aside from the varying treatments, parents should teach strong coping mechanisms for their teenagers to utilize while in these tough situations. Different coping mechanisms range from taking interest in a hobby like painting or photography, getting exercise, or by participating in yoga. Parents of a depressed teenager should offer unconditional support for their child, being there to help the adolescent through the tough times they are enduring.

For severe cases, residential treatment centers for depression can tremendously help. Staff are trained to handle different situations and are designed to provide therapeutic intervention centered around healing and rehabilitating teens with depression.

If you need more information in finding the right help for your troubled teen, contact us here.

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