Any angst-filled teenager will tell you that nobody truly understands what they are going through, and in many ways, they are right.
The teen years are fraught with questions of self identity, achievement, confidence, sexuality and more, all being negotiated against a background of wild hormone changes. Even those of us who had turbulent teen years ourselves can forget how difficult and all consuming the problems of the teen years can be.
Many teens experience mood swings, but teenage depression is much worse than the occasional angry outburst. Symptoms of depression in teenagers are similar to those in adults, and include irritability, hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, sadness, motivation problems, lack of concentration and changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
However, teenagers may manifest depression in different ways too. The sadness of depression may be expressed as anger and hostility, and hopelessness may show as heightened sensitivity to criticism. Unfortunately, teen depression can sometimes be left untreated because parents fail to recognise rebellious and disobedient behaviour as symptoms of depression.
Teens may be pushed to engage in risky behaviour, substance use, truancy, bullying, eating disorders, self-harm or Internet and game addiction. In more extreme cases, teens may consider suicide or even make an attempt at ending their own lives. Talking about suicide, even in a joking way, giving away possessions and being obsessed with themes of death and dying are all warning signs that a teen may be in the throes of a serious depression. Some teens, though, never give any indication that they are suffering.
Helping your depressed teen
Sadly, many teens do not view their parents as a source of nurturing or support. To help your teen weather depression, try to offer as much non-judgmental support as you can. Resist the urge to give advice or lecture them, as this will only undermine their trust in you. You will be surprised at what you can learn when you provide an open and safe space for your teen to be truly heard.
Parents may think they are being helpful by suggesting solutions or by brushing off the teen’s problems as not really serious. Teenagers are sensitive to even the faintest hint of patronizing or condescension and will clam up if they think you will delegitimise or judge them for the way they feel. So encourage them to be frank and honest with you, and then try to really respect and honour what you hear from them when they are.
Try not to take it personally if your teen will still not open up to you. Be patient and ready to support them when they need it. A counsellor or psychologist may be useful and necessary if your teen needs someone to talk to, and can teach your teen the skills to regulate their moods. A mental health professional will also be able to diagnose depression and refer you to a GP or psychiatrist if they feel that medication would be a good option to consider.
If you are looking for a counsellor or therapist in your local area, check out our directory of counsellors, therapists and psychologists that can help your child with depression.