Teenagers face a host of pressures, from the changes of puberty to questions about who they are and where they fit in. The natural transition from child to adult can also bring parental conflict as teens start to assert their independence. With all this drama, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between depression and normal teenage moodiness. Making things even more complicated, teens with depression do not necessarily appear sad, nor do they always withdraw from others. For some depressed teens, symptoms of irritability, aggression, and rage are more prominent.
Signs and symptoms of depression in teens
If you’re unsure if an adolescent in your life is depressed or just “being a teenager,” consider how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how different the teen is acting from his or her usual self. While some “growing pains” are to be expected as teenagers grapple with the challenges of growing up, dramatic, long-lasting changes in personality, mood, or behavior are red flags of a deeper problem.
Effects of teen depression
The negative effects of teenage depression go far beyond a melancholy mood. Many rebellious and unhealthy behaviors or attitudes in teenagers are actually indications of depression. The following are some the ways in which teens “act out” or “act in” in an attempt to cope with their emotional pain:
- Problems at school. Depression can cause low energy and concentration difficulties. At school, this may lead to poor attendance, a drop in grades, or frustration with schoolwork in a formerly good student.
- Running away. Many depressed teens run away from home or talk about running away. Such attempts are usually a cry for help.
- Drug and alcohol abuse. Teens may use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to “self-medicate” their depression. Unfortunately, substance abuse only makes things worse.
- Low self-esteem. Depression can trigger and intensify feelings of ugliness, shame, failure, and unworthiness.
- Internet addiction. Teens may go online to escape from their problems. But excessive computer use only increases their isolation and makes them more depressed.
- Reckless behavior. Depressed teens may engage in dangerous or high-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving, out-of-control drinking, and unsafe sex.
- Violence. Some depressed teens (usually boys who are the victims of bullying) become violent. As in the case of the Columbine school massacre, self-hatred and a wish to die can erupt into violence and homicidal rage.
Teen depression is also associated with a number of other mental health problems, including eating disorders and self-injury.
Suicide warning signs in teenagers
Teens who are seriously depressed often think, speak, or make “attention-getting” attempts at suicide. An alarming and increasing number of teenagers attempt and succeed at suicide, so suicidal thoughts or behaviors should always be taken very seriously.
Suicide warning signs in depressed teens
- Talking or joking about committing suicide.
- Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
- Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”).
- Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide.
- Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury.
- Giving away prized possessions.
- Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for good.
- Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves.
As a Parenting & Teen Coach, I have met teenagers who have teenage issues and I reiterate to parents that it is important for parents to talk to their children despite the antagonism that will be displayed. As my son approaches this stage of his life, I realize that I have to start paying attention to him and to get him to trust that whatever he tells me that I will not go ballistic which is usually my 1st reaction.