The Mask of Teen Depression

A few decades ago, a teen was only considered depressed if he/she could not get out of bed, cried all of the time, and remained crunched in fetal position.  Now, as we have advanced in the field of psychology, we realize that there are many other signs of teenage depression that, if recognized, can be the impetus for early intervention and recovery.  We also know that different teens can present with signs and symptoms of depression that are quite unusual and outside the realm of the norm.  These are the teens that so often go misdiagnosed and untreated.  Many end up in jail or prison.  It is so important to get this healthcare problem dealt with early; as like cancer, it seldom goes away on its own.  Because so many teens go undiagnosed, the number of teens committing suicide are rising exponentially.  Parents, teachers, and community leaders need to do all that they can to educate themselves.

The teens that are most at risk for depression are those who have –

  • Family history of depression
  • experienced a stressful event or events like bullying, parental divorce, abuse, break up with a girlfriend
  • trouble being social
  • problems within their family, such as an absent parent.

Signs of teen depression can fall under 7 specific categories.  (Keep in mind, that no two teens have exactly the same set of symptoms).  These include –

1. Isolation and Avoidance

  • Want to isolate themselves and spend a lot of time alone in their room
  • Don’t want to participate in any family events.
  • Want very little conversation with parents.
  • Make excuses for not wanting to spend time with friends.
  • Turn off their phone
  • Insists on privacy and wants a lock put on their bedroom door.

2. Motivation

  • They can’t get motivated
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Feeling fatigued and hopeless
  • Don’t want to go to school
  • Are no longer motivated to attend previously enjoyed sports and activities.
  • Cannot bring themselves to complete academic work and assignments.

3. Changing Patterns

  • Lose interest in previous activities (sports, piano, friends, movies, etc)
  • They begin to over/under eat
  • Schoolwork continually worsens
  • Seems stressed and sleep patterns change, either sleeping more during the day or staying up late at night
  • Don’t enjoy the foods they used to love, often saying, “I’m not hungry.”
  • Don’t enjoy listening to their favorite music
  • Develop headaches, stomach aches, and generally fatigued and tired.

4. Emotional Dysregulation

  • They cry are get sad easily
  • They get upset easily (from watching an event on television)
  • Want to zone out
  • Get angry at people and things that never used to bother them before (teachers, coaches, neighbors, peers)
  • Can’t seem to control their temper and frustration and feel bad about their behaviors afterwards.
  • Lash out at family members
  • Can’t seem to stop ruminating about things that bother them.

5. Acting Out

  • They start to bully others
  • They act out in high risk behaviors such as reckless driving, lying about where they have been and what they have been doing.
  • Will not come home at curfew time.
  • Refuses to accept a curfew.
  • Start drinking or using drugs.

6. No Joy

  • They seem cut off from their emotions
  • They become very sensitive to criticism
  • They seldom smile
  • No longer find humor in funny movies
  • Say that they feel empty inside; and often appear that way.
  • Nothing that you do or say seems to make them feel better.

7. Self-loathing

  • Demonstrate signs and statements of low self esteem
  • Consistently think or say negative self-statements
  • Compares themselves to others
  • Perceives neutral events as proof that they are useless
  • Despises aspects about themselves (hair, body image, pimples, etc).

How to help –

  • Encourage communication without forcing
  • Try to get them to talk about their thoughts and feelings
  • Remind them of their strengths and positive traits
  • Tell them repeatedly that you love them, even if they don’t acknowledge it
  • Help them see the humor in life -laugh anyway as it can be contagious
  • Remind them of fun times in the past
  • Include them in on any activities that help make them feel purposeful and gain momentum.
  • Encourage them to get involved in group activities. Connection is 50% of the cure.
  • Refer to a certified integrative health coach, psychologist, or other health professional
  • Integrative health coaches provide more immediate service without the stigma of a mental health professional.

Remember – teens are not their depression.

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Blog Post written by:

Dr. Nickerson's professional experience as a psychologist and personal passion for developing the mind-body-spirit connection have fueled her success and devotion to training individuals and organizations to foster whole wellness.

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