Teen depression is significantly more common than many people realize. This severe mental health problem drastically impacts teens’ lives across the nation, interfering with school, social enjoyment, and a host of other aspects of their day-to-day lives. Depression causes your teen to experience persistent feelings of sadness and loss of enjoyment in typical activities they previously took pleasure in. When your teen is depressed, it can quickly have a detrimental effect on how they think, feel and behave. It can also cause physical, functional, and emotional challenges. Depression does not selectively choose who it affects.
The symptoms of depression are not bound by age, although the symptoms and presentation may differ between teens and adults, which adds an additional level of challenge. Many parents struggle to determine if their teen’s mood and behavior are a “typical” phase in teen development or something that should be addressed by professionals trained in teen mental health needs such as those at Beachside.
Recognizing Teen Depression
The triggers and stressors that often lead to depression are different for teens and adults. As a teen, struggles surrounding academic achievements, peer pressure, hormones, puberty, and social expectation bring about many emotional highs and lows. For some teens, the lows evolve into more than a moment of sadness. For your teen, chronic feelings of sadness can have severe consequences and may require professional treatment.
Most, if not all, teens experience mood swings and behavioral changes as they grow. These moments are normal considering the significant number of changes to their bodies, brains, and lives during these developmental years. These changes can be overwhelming and difficult for teens (and parents) to work through. It can also be challenging to determine if the emotions your teen is experiencing are “teen angst” or a signal they may be depressed.
The signs of teen depression are often accompanied by a significant change from your teen’s typical behavior and mood. These changes often lead to noticeable difficulties at home, school, and in their social and extracurricular obligations. Depression is a common struggle among teens that continues to grow. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 13% of teens between ages twelve and seventeen had at least one major depressive episode in 2017. Perhaps even more concerning is that more than 60% of those teens did not receive any form of treatment for their mental health needs.
Symptoms of depression in teens include emotional, behavioral, and physical changes. To better understand how to find the best treatment program for your teen, it is essential to know how depression looks in teens.
Behavioral changes are a standard part of teen development, yet they are also a potential sign of teen depression. Indeed, it can be challenging to know the difference. Some of the most common behavioral changes you may see include reduced energy, changes in sleep patterns, restlessness or agitation, cognitive challenges, self-imposed isolation, angry outburst, and changes to personal appearance or hygiene.
In addition to behavioral changes, you may also notice new or heightened emotions in your teen. Some of the most frequent that could indicate depression maybe feelings of chronic sadness. Crying spells for no apparent reason, irritability, loss of interest or pleasure in their usual activities, reduced self-esteem, expressions of witnesses or guilt, frequent thoughts of death dying or suicide, or ongoing statements that they feel like their life and future are destined for failure.
In time, untreated symptoms of depression can lead to physical and medical challenges for your teen. They may exhibit significant weight changes (either gain or loss depending on how depression impacts them), unexplained body aches and pains, and frequent visits to the school nurse or their primary care provider. Other more alarming physical symptoms of depression could include self-harm, such as cutting or burning or attempted overdose.
Many of the above symptoms also appear as part of day-to-day teen life. Therefore, it can be challenging for parents and caregivers to tell the difference between typical teen emotional ups and downs and depression. The line between typical teen angst and depression is hard to see, but it is crossed when moodiness and other behavioral and emotional changes continue for more than two weeks and/or begin to affect your teen’s ability to function or focus on their obligations and responsibilities. For example, if your teen who was previously on the honor roll and participating in sports now doesn’t want to go to school, drops out of sports, starts failing academically, and chooses to isolate themselves away from family and friends, depression may be a cause.
Diagnosing Teen Depression
If you are concerned that your teen is experiencing depression, it is essential to seek treatment. You can begin by contacting their primary care provider. Having their medical provider be their first interaction may be more comfortable than seeking treatment from a therapy provider such as Beachside immediately. Your teen likely knows their primary care provider better and is more likely to open up to them about their concerns, fears, and difficulties related to depression. Their doctor will likely perform various exams and tests, including a physical exam, lab test, and a psychological evaluation. It is important to determine if the symptoms of their depression could be linked to an underlying health problem that could be causing or exacerbating their symptoms. In addition, a psychological evaluation will help your doctor learn more about your teen’s feelings and behaviors to help better understand their current emotional state and determine the presence of any preexisting or coexisting mental health conditions.
There are several types of depression. To best create a treatment plan that meets your teen’s unique treatment needs and goals, it is essential to understand what kind of depression they have. It is also crucial to rule out any other disorders they may have that could cause depression symptoms. There are several disorders that include depression as a symptom, and therefore an accurate diagnosis is a key to ensuring they receive appropriate treatment. A thorough and comprehensive evaluation by a doctor or a mental health professional such as a therapist here at Beachside can help determine if the symptoms your teen experiences are depression or if they are caused by one of a variety of other conditions.
Choosing the Best Depression Treatment for Your Teen
For many teens, depression is situational and temporary. Often, they just need guidance in patients while they work through their emotions. A singular depressive episode does not necessarily indicate the need for treatment, medications, or ongoing therapy. This is a common misconception and fear among teens who are afraid to reach out and talk to somebody about their emotions. The teen years are, unfortunately, a time of stigma and labels. Many teens are afraid if they go to therapy, their peers will view them as “different” or “crazy.” If your teen is experiencing depression, treatment must be sought at the earliest signs of a problem to provide them the best opportunity for recovery. Early and comprehensive treatment at a specialized teen treatment facility like Beachside can help prevent depression from worsening with potentially detrimental outcomes. It is equally as essential to continue with ongoing treatment if recommended in order to avoid a potential relapse of depressive symptoms.
Inpatient treatment for teen mental health concerns like depression often consists of a combination of talk therapy (psychotherapy) such as cognitive behavioral therapy and medications. If your teen has severe depression or is in danger of self-harm (or has attempted self-harm). They may need a hospital stay or medical intervention to ensure their safety before mental health treatment can successfully begin.
Psychotherapy is the term used to describe a form of counseling that utilizes communication as a means to address the underlying cause of mental health concerns. During a therapy session, your teen will talk with their therapist about depression and related issues. Therapy sessions are often done one on one or with family members depending on the unique needs of your teen. Psychotherapy models such as cognitive behavioral therapy encourage participants to examine the root causes of their thoughts and behaviors to better understand their emotions. Once they have an understanding around their negative thoughts, they are encouraged to learn healthy, positive ways to change their actions to achieve successful outcomes.
Depending on your teen, their mental health provider may prescribe medications for a set duration during their treatment program. It is essential to note that many medications are not meant to be taken long-term. To date, the Food and Drug Administration has approved two medications for teen depression. Because everyone reacts to medications differently is essential to find the right medication or dose for your teen. This process may take trial and error. Unfortunately, the early stages of antidepressant treatment require patience as some medications need several weeks to take full effect or for side effects to present. It is essential not to give up on the treatment process as with time and realistic goals; your teen can successfully complete treatment and move forward free of depression symptoms.
Aftercare and Beyond
Upon completing treatment at Beachside, your teen’s mental health provider may also recommend some lifestyle changes to ensure they continue on a healthy path. First, it is important to stick to any prescribed treatment plan. This would include attending any appointments they have scheduled and taking medications if prescribed. It is important to note that suddenly stopping medications or canceling therapy appointments could result in relapse regardless of how your teen feels post-treatment. It can also be beneficial as a family to educate yourself about depression. Learning more about symptoms and triggers can help empower your teen and possibly motivate them to stick to their treatment plan.
Finally, it is important for your teen to adopt healthy habits and avoid triggering circumstances or situations. Triggers are an inevitable part of day-to-day function regardless of age or recovery status. Encourage your teen to get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and resume participation in physical activities. All of the above can help keep their focus away from depression and potentially help them avoid triggers.
If you are concerned that your teen might be struggling with depression, do not wait to get help. Recovery from depression is possible with comprehensive and individualized treatment plans that consider both the mental and physical aspects of depression. At Beachside, we design our treatment plans around our patients’ holistic needs; Not their diagnosis. If you are a teen who is experiencing depression or the parent of a teen who is concerned, reach out to the admissions teen at Beachside today.