A teenager’s life is wrought with pressure, confusion and change; pressure to fit in, adversity, pressure to succeed, the desire to follow the rules yet the draw to break them, understanding the changes going on in their own bodies and the emotions that go along with it. They are faced with questions about who they are, what their purpose is and the looming future that lies ahead of them. They may feel a deep sense of sadness, despair, and hopelessness. Are some of those things normal for people going through a life change, riding the emotional roller coaster?
With all of this uncertainty and chaos that can consume a teenager’s life, it can be difficult for parents and caregivers to differentiate between what is actually normal teenage behavior and actual depression. Teen depression goes well beyond the normal ups and downs associated with the teen years. Instead, it is a serious mental disorder that must be treated by trained professionals.
It is estimated that one out of every five teens suffers from depression. This equates to approximately twenty percent of high school students who may be dealing with depression. This is an astounding number yet most parents may not even be aware that their teen is suffering.
What does teen depression look like then? Sometimes it may feel that your teen hates you one minute and the next minute they love you again. A simple comment may send them over the edge into a tirade or push them to retreat into their room, slamming doors. They may withdraw from things that they once loved even hanging out with trusted friends. Is this normal teenage behavior or depression?
If this is your first go-around with a teenager living in your home, you may be confused as to what actually defines normal behavior. Let’s take a look at it more closely.
As hormones begin to take over a teen’s body, their moods can become erratic and unpredictable. Occasional outbursts should be expected as they are experiencing these physical changes in their bodies and minds. Most teens require more sleep as they are pulled in multiple directions and have more commitments. Of course, as they desire to become more independent, they will have a strong desire to spend more time with their friends than with family.
Along with physical changes come the emotional and mental stresses of self-evaluation. During this critical time, many teens develop the foundation for self-worth and self-esteem which may stay with them throughout their lifetime. Teens may become more self-critical, worrying about their appearance and attempting to fit in. It is also common for teenagers to test out their boundaries, succumbing to peer pressure, possibly taking more risks than usual.
Although these normal teen behaviors may seem as if someone has kidnapped your once well-behaved child, they are perfectly NORMAL for teens. However, when these behaviors are taken to the extreme, and combined with other, more serious thoughts and actions, your teen may be suffering from depression. Let’s look at how these behaviors compare.
- Spending time with friends = normal; shying away from family AND friends = sign of depression
- Sleeping more = normal; sudden change in sleep patterns, either abnormally long or lack of sleep = sign of depression
- Moodiness that passes = normal teen behavior; sadness and anxiety that do not go away = sign of depression
- Concern for appearance = normal; worry that causes extreme actions such as significant changes in eating, exercising in excess, negative comments about appearance and self = sign of depression
- Neglecting things that once was loved = normal; withdrawing from activities or social settings = sign of depression
- Testing the boundaries = normal teen behavior; deliberately engaging in harmful or risky activities = sign of depression
If you are noticing any of these symptoms of depression in your teenager, your next question may be why. Why is my teen acting out in school? Why is she so concerned with her appearance, constantly comparing herself to others? Why does he lock himself in his room, refusing to associate with family or friends? Why does my teenager spend so much time sleeping? All of these questions are reasonable and logical and a professional trained in mental health issues of teens can help shed some light on some of this. But, for the time being, let’s look at the answer to some of your questions.
While it is not exactly known what causes depression in teenagers, studies have shown some consistencies in risk factors:
- Hormones are a big one. The sudden change in the body’s already delicate balance can tip a teen’s emotional and mental state towards depression especially if other risk factors are also present.
- Brain makeup may be slightly abnormal causing it to function differently. Although nothing may have been apparent during the child’s younger years, brain chemistry along with hormones and outside pressures may trigger a negative effect leading to depression.
- Trauma in the early, developmental years in a child’s life may create the perfect environment for a teen to be more susceptible to depression.
- External risk factors including bullying, low self-esteem, a learning disability or being a member of the LGBTQ community without the appropriate support may all lend themselves to depression.
Each of these factors, when coupled with the normal characteristics of adolescence, may point an unsuspecting teen, and caregivers down the path of depression.
During adolescence, it is normal for children to want to separate from their parents, to come out from under their wing so to speak. However, it is when this separation becomes extreme that you should be concerned. Aside from wanting to spend more time away from their parents, teens with depression may withdraw from society as a whole, including friends and classmates.
Social interactions may exacerbate the already tumultuous feelings that are rattling around inside them. They are trying to not only navigate life as a teenager in this strange body, but to understand the meaning behind their thoughts and behaviors. Although they may not be able to put a label on it such as depression, many teens who are experiencing depression know that they just don’t feel like themselves. Withdrawing from things that they once loved and isolating themselves is a means of trying to wrap their brains around their feelings. Yet isolation in fact, reinforces the feelings of being different, alone, unwanted or uncared for.
By secluding themselves, teens with depression are attempting to avoid rejection, to remove themselves from uncomfortable situations, or to hide the fact that they may be feeling out of sorts. In today’s digital world, teens may use technology to find comfort as they scroll, tap and swipe along the stories and pictures depicting other people’s lives. Unfortunately, as they see other teens enjoying life, going to parties and sharing in fun, they become more resentful of their own feelings and situation, pushing them further into depression.
Withdrawal from things that they once loved creates a cyclical pattern of behavior and emotions. A depressed teen isolates himself to avoid having to mask his feelings in public; loneliness and anxiety are worsened as there is no outlet for the emotions, and thoughts become overwhelming; depression deepens, leading to possible thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Let’s look at how isolation and withdrawal may have other significant effects on a teen:
- Restless sleep
- Reduced amount of exercise, having a negative impact on overall health
- Possible substance abuse to alleviate the feelings of loneliness and to fill a void
- Poor self-care such as nutrition and bathing
- Increased negative outlook
As you can see, this never ending of cycle of isolation and depression puts teens in an extremely harmful situation that if left untreated may prove to be fatal.
On the other hand, let’s look at how the power of connecting with others may not solve the problem of depression, but may help the teen’s symptoms and even recovery after treatment:
- Improved self-esteem from socializing with others
- Increased positive outlook on life
- Better overall health
- Stronger emotional/coping skills
- Engagement in activities that bring joy
When teens reach out to friends for support, they may find some relief to their social isolation, their feelings of loss and unhappiness. By reengaging in activities and staying busy, a teen may be able to counteract the tendency to withdraw and reap the benefits of making new friends, improved self-esteem and a more positive outlook.
Although social interaction and engagement will not solve the problem of depression, it can help to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with it. However, depression is a serious mental disorder requiring guidance and treatment from trained personnel.
Do not think that if your child simply goes to hang out with friends or comes out of his room to be with the family that he is cured or in recovery. Teens suffering from depression are fragile and may easily slip back into negative behaviors quickly and without warning. Socialization is only a temporary fix to the greater problem which requires monitoring, treatment, and counseling with professionals at a facility like Beachside.
Once evaluated and diagnosed with depression, your teen will receive his or her own treatment plan, designed specifically with their needs and challenges in mind. Through psychotherapy, teens will have the opportunity to evaluate situations that may be uncomfortable for them, and discover coping mechanisms to help them through. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help teens suffering from depression to change their negative thoughts to powerful, positive messages. By engaging in interpersonal therapy, teens can learn how detrimental isolation and withdrawal may be to their mental state and how to assimilate into society, developing healthy relationships at home and at school.
Medication may also be prescribed as necessary to assist with some of the symptoms of depression.
At Beachside Treatment Center, your teen will receive the diagnosis and care that he or she needs to overcome the symptoms and identify the causes of their depression while learning the coping skills to help them moving forward. When teens are experiencing depression, they cannot see how they have a future or that their situation will improve. The trained medical professionals at Beachside will guide your teen to see the beauty in their life and to recognize that it is worth living, helping to put it back on track and to have hope for the future.