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Does your teen seem depressed all the time? An expert tells us when to worry

Everyone warns us about the teenage years: the mood swings, the eye rolls, and the sighing huffs and puffs and grunts that become a second form of communication. Your teen may frequently remind you how un-cool you are and avoid you at all costs.

Stereotypes tell us our teens disappearing into their rooms for hours on end is normal, but when does your teen’s self-isolation go from normal teenage behavior to red flag behavior?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly two million children ages 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with depression (or depressive disorder). Not only that, but additional CDC studies show the number of kids being diagnosed with depression and anxiety has been on the rise.

Why are teens so depressed? Exploring the pressure your teen is experiencing can help you understand why your teen may seem so depressed all the time. Let’s examine when you should be concerned.

depressed-teenager-girl

Why are teens so depressed? Causes of teen depression

Our society puts tremendous pressure on teens. According to research, the majority of teens feel pressured to get good grades. Many teens are taking heavy class loads and may even be pursuing college-level courses, either through AP classes or with local colleges.

When you combine the demands of school work with other school-related stressors, like playing sports or being involved with extracurricular activities, it’s no wonder many teens suffer from anxiety and other forms of depression.

Social pressures can also greatly affect our teens’ mental health. Teens experience pressure to fit in and to look good. Trying to navigate these social interactions on top of maintaining good grades and keeping up with activities can be overwhelming.

This peer pressure can also lead your teen to make destructive and potentially harmful decisions. According to Gurinder Dabhia, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo, “…the prefrontal cortex is underdeveloped, which makes teens more sensitive to peer pressure and risky, impulsive behavior.”

Our teens also face influences from social media. Social media has created an outlet for teens to stay continuously connected, in both positive and negative ways, while being bombarded with perfect images and risky virtual challenges. Studies are beginning to chip away at the association between increased social media usage and the increased rates of depression in teens.

father and teen having a talk on a bench

When to be concerned

Deciphering what are moody hormonal changes in your teen and what could be signs of depression can be challenging. Monitor your teen for frequency and duration of symptoms. If your teen is experiencing these symptoms with extreme severity, don’t hesitate to reach out to a medical professional.

Although these symptoms on their own may not be warning signs, if more than one of these behaviors is present, you may what to seek an expert opinion. Ron J. Steingard, MD, notes symptoms of teen depression include:

  • Isolation: if your teen seems to be spending more time alone or is frequently withdrawing herself from normal activities, this could be a sign of depression.
  • Change in appetite: teens are notorious for eating their way through the pantry. Consider speaking with your teen or his medical provider if you notice a dip in his eating.
  • Sleep disruptions: teens who experience an inability to fall asleep or are staying up late into the night may be experiencing depression. Likewise, teens who suddenly sleep all the time, but complain about being tired could also be depressed.
  • Mood swings: seek a medical opinion if you notice your teen’s mood swings are happening more often or if it seems harder for your teen to get out of bouts of rage or sullenness.
  • Slipping grades: changes in academic performance, especially combined with other symptoms, could be a sign your teen is suffering from depression.

Self-Harm

A serious concern for parents of teens, especially with teens who are showing signs of suffering from depression, is self-harm. Some studies indicate that about 17% of adolescents have performed at least one act of self-harm.

Although engaging in self-injury does not necessarily mean your teen is suicidal, the behavior should be taken seriously. Doctors encourage parents to try not to overreact and to seek understanding when discussing self-harm with their teens.

Alison M. Yaeger, PsyD, states, “A key feature is to help parents realize that responding to their teen’s emotional state with validation before trying to solve problems is critical to opening a pathway to helping their teen.”

Warning signs your teen may be engaging in self-injurious behavior includes:

  • new unexplained injuries (cuts, bruises, burn marks)
  • wearing long sleeves or pants even in the warmest months
  • finding bloody tissues or clothing
  • upset teens disappearing to their rooms only to reemerge later in a much better mood
  • reoccurring marks or injuries on the skin

Stay involved

Helping our teens navigate their mental health is tough, but extremely important work. Being actively involved in our teens’ lives and paying attention to any changes in their behavior can help us notice if our teens are showing signs of depression.

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