How do you know if your teen may be depressed?
It can be confusing if your teenager seems completely fine some days, but other days they act like it’s the end of the world. They’re teens, right? They may have had a breakdown recently that seemed totally out of character and now you’re really concerned. The younger your teenager is, the more they may be able to compartmentalize their life. They might be able to have a blast with their friends, and then later that night seem down and upset. This is a strength of a lot of teenagers. They are able to turn off different parts of their life in order to cope, but this can also make it harder for you as a parent to spot teen depression.
Silent depression is when someone appears to be functioning in their day to day life, but still experiences the internal symptoms of depression. Your teen may still be going to school daily, but they may feel overly tired or unmotivated. Their teachers might even say they seem “distracted”. Or they may be spending time with friends, but still feel disconnected from others. They may isolate themselves in their room when at home and not tell anyone how they are currently feeling.
Some other symptoms of depression can include a lack of appetite and difficulty sleeping, but these can be easy to hide. Your teen might be skipping meals at school but eating at home. They may be turning their lights off at night, but not getting restful sleep. These can be hard to recognize unless you are asking and specifically looking for signs.
Let’s talk about some practical ways to figure out if your teen may be depressed.
Identify possible triggers.
Trauma can look different for everyone. A break up with a friend or significant other can be traumatic for some. Changes in schools or changes in social groups, whether by choice or not, can cause a mix of emotions. Conflict at home or family illnesses can lead to ongoing stress regardless of the source. If there is something your teen might be going through, that might not seem out of the ordinary for you, don’t underestimate the impact. Middle school and high school are difficult enough on their own, and adding just one change can affect a teens emotional stability.
Notice changes in behavior.
Your teen may enjoy alone time, but have they significantly increased the amount of time they spend by themselves? If they are skipping out on time with their favorite friend group, it could be a sign they are isolating themselves. Are they crying more often than normal over small issues? Are their grades dropping significantly or do they generally seem unmotivated even if grades are still up? One of these changes alone does not mean that they are depressed, but these changes could be signs that it is worth exploring the topic of teen depression.
Ask your teen openly.
Ask your teenager if they have been feeling down or if they consider themself depressed. Even if your teen says “No way! I’m not depressed!” You’ve still shown them that it’s a topic you’re willing to discuss and they may be more likely to bring it up in the future if needed.
If your teen has been feeling depressed you may be surprised by how much they know about the topic. Mental health concerns are talked about a lot more openly in schools, by other teens, and on social media. Your teen may be able to verbalize to you exactly how they’re feeling if you open up the discussion.
Educate yourself about self harm.
Self harm, specifically cutting, can coincide with depression in teens. Cutting is usually done as a way to feel a release of pain and essentially soothe oneself. It is an outward symptom of a deeper inner struggle. It is very difficult for a teen to “just stop” self harming without replacing it with positive ways to cope with emotional pain.
If you find out your teen has been self harming the best thing you can do as a parent is to stay as calm as possible, while also taking it very seriously. Let your teen know that you take their emotional pain seriously and take the necessary steps to get them help to learn better ways to cope. Talk with your healthcare provider and find a therapist if you notice self harm.
Seek professional help.
It’s never too early to get counseling if you suspect teen depression. Preventative treatment can be just as important to keep depression at bay. They can learn the skills to manage their emotions, deal with stress, and communicate their needs and boundaries. Most therapists also offer a free consultation if you want to find out more.
Show your teen you take them seriously and that their mental health is a priority. Let them search online for a therapist they feel they may connect with, or involve them in the decision making process once you find a therapist. If finances are a concern, check with your insurance and ask about in-network and out-of-network options for mental health. There are also group therapy options that are typically more affordable per session. No matter which option you choose, show your teen that taking action is important by getting them the help that they need.
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