Is your teenager irritable? Apathetic? Withdrawn? Does she sleep in, seemingly forever, on weekends? Does she express unhappiness and thoughts of death and dying? If so, how do you know if she’s suffering from depression or just garden-variety teenage angst? Since the adolescent personality is, by definition, in flux, it can be difficult to distinguish normal adolescent behavior from more serious emotional disturbances—so difficult, in fact, that mental health professionals often assign only tentative diagnoses or “shows symptoms of” descriptions to their teen patients.
But this does not mean that teens cannot experience full-blown emotional disorders. Depression is a common emotional disorder that can carry uncommon consequences such as self-harm or suicide. It should, therefore, be treated immediately and seriously. As with many emotional disorders, however, it can show up differently in teens than in adults and may—intentionally or unintentionally—be masked or hidden.
If your teen exhibits a combination of several of the following symptoms, she may be suffering from depression or a related problem. If you suspect your child might be suffering from an emotional problem such as chronic depression (dysthymia), major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder or any of the several types of depression, alert your mental health provider (preferably one with experience diagnosing and treating teens) immediately.
- Seems drowsy all the time and/or sleeps a lot
- Is constantly irritable and snappy
- Stays in her room or is otherwise withdrawn
- Avoids social situations
- Has difficult completing homework due to difficulty concentrating
- Expresses dark thoughts or obsesses about death and dying
- Speaks of suicide or violence
- Seems overly apologetic or guilt-ridden
- Is non-compliant or participates in illegal or rebellious behavior
- Has angry outbursts
- Experienced a sudden drop in grades
- Has lost interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Experiences physical aches and pains
- Is frequently fatigued
- Tears up or sighs frequently or otherwise expresses sadness
- Seems anxious or fearful
- Talks of or attempts suicide
- Skips school or work
- Seems lazy or irresponsible
- Experienced a rapid weight change (gain or loss)
This is just a partial list and should not be considered a diagnostic tool, but just a list of possible warning signs. Depression can be confused with—or accompanied by—other disorders, so only your mental health professional should make a diagnosis. If, however, you suspect that your teen may be significantly or chronically depressed, visit your mental health provider immediately. If your child expresses thoughts of suicide, a desire to die (even spoken in passing) or makes a suicidal gesture or attempt, take it seriously—now. Call a suicide hot line 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)—or the deaf hot line at 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889) and contact your own mental health provider.