It’s normal for teens to be moody, sad, or angry, especially in these times of uncertainty and isolation. How can you spot the signs of teenage depression to determine if the funk your son is in is just that, or full-blown depression?
As many as one in five teens suffer from clinical depression. While increasingly common, depression is a serious mental disorder. If left untreated, teenage depression can have serious long-term consequences and negatively impact overall quality of life.
The symptoms of depression that can fly under the radar and look like normal “teen angst” every adult is familiar with. Here are our suggestions for spotting the signs your teen may be suffering from depression:
Adolescents who are suffering from depression may find that they have difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. They may lie awake going over their day or worry about what will happen tomorrow. They may experience racing thoughts that keep them from falling asleep. Once they go to sleep, they may wake up easily or wake up and not be able to fall back asleep.
Insomnia can worsen other symptoms of depression and decrease overall wellbeing. Sleep problems that go on for more than two weeks, or make it difficult to accomplish daily tasks, call for an assessment by a doctor to check for depression or other underlying issues.
Another common symptom of depression is a change in appetite. Depression and eating disorders are commonly related. The teen experiencing depression may eat too much, seeking out his favorite foods in an effort to self-comfort. Alternately, he may eat too little, as loss of appetite is a common side-effect of depression. Simply figuring out what and how to eat can be too much work for someone suffering with depression.
Conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, and binging are harmful eating behaviors that can also accompany depressive episodes. These appetite changes are serious and should be discussed with a medical or behavioral health professional.
A sudden or drastic change in behavior may be the first sign that your teen is struggling with depression.
Some behavioral changes which may be signs of depression include:
- Angry outbursts, sometimes accompanied with shouting, throwing things, hitting, destroying things, etc.
- Agitation or restlessness — pacing, hand-wringing, or an inability to sit still
- Paying less attention to his hygiene and physical appearance than normal
- Getting into trouble at school, or frequent absences
- Fighting, whether with friends or strangers, verbally or physically
- Isolation. Your teen may stop seeing friends, taking calls, or going to social activities
- Apathy, not being interested in, or not enjoying activities he used to like
- Self-harm — cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing
Sadness — being outwardly “depressed”— is often assumed to be the easiest way to spot the signs of depression, and it often (but not always) is. If your son is crying, expressing hopelessness, or making statements like “I’m a failure,” “nobody likes me,” or “nothing matters,” that’s a good sign he’s experiencing something more serious than a blue mood.
An adolescent with depression might experience physical changes along with other signs of teenage depression. A few common physical manifestations of depression include stomach ache, headache, and a general vague feeling of being unwell.
Physical changes affecting the brain include trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
Another physical sign of depression is fatigue. This fatigue is different from feeling tired after staying up until 2:00 AM texting. Instead, a teen with depression feels like they’re not well rested, no matter how much sleep they get.
Substance use and abuse is yet another sign your son may be struggling with depression. Vaping, smoking marijuana, and drinking are unhealthy coping mechanisms for dulling teen’s underlying feelings of sadness, worthlessness, anxiety, or pain. The sudden onset of substance use is almost always secondary to another issue, such as depression.
Teenage depression is a serious health concern with serious consequences. Untreated depression can negatively affect every aspect of a boy’s life, and even lead to suicide. Successful recovery is possible — through therapy, medication, and other interventions. For some teens, a more holistic approach such as wilderness therapy or residential treatment program may be called for.
Knowing how to spot the signs of teenage depression is an important first step to getting your teen the help he needs.
By Natalie Walker Whitlock, for The Forge School
If your child is having a mental health emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text 741741 from anywhere in the country to talk with a trained crisis counselor.
This article is for informational purposes only and not to be considered medical advice.
The suggestions herein should be adapted to local and state laws and mandates, and your own individual and family circumstances.