Have you ever called your teen lazy or thought them unmotivated? You are not alone. People who are depressed are often perceived as lazy in part due to the lack of drive and motivation. Do you believe depression is real? Do you wonder if it looks the same in teens as it does in adults?
As a therapist, I frequently see teens suffering from depression. Often the biggest struggle is getting the teen, as well as their parents, to understand what is going on, what depression is, what it is not, and what to do once it’s diagnosed.
Let me begin with a story of a 15 year old girl who is having a hard time is school. She is unmotivated and irritable. Her parents can’t seem to ever say the right thing to her. She hates going to school, and seems annoyed all of the time. She spends a large amount of time alone or in her room, withdrawn from those around her despite having many friends who want to socialize. She spends a lot of time crying but never talks about what is bothering her. She doesn’t seem to care about anything that used to be important to her like hanging out with her friends, or playing sports. Her parents wonder, “What happened to our sweet, fun-loving daughter?”
Depression, like the flu, has symptoms. These symptoms can no more be willed away than the muscle aches or fever that come with the flu. Before you diagnose your child with depression, there are specific criteria that need to be met. Here are the warning signs:
• Sadness (or Irritability)
• Change in weight
• Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
• Energy loss
• Feelings of worthlessness
• Thoughts of death or suicide
• Loss of interest or pleasure in things
Additionally, research has shown that young teens and young adults suffer from depression more than older adults. Here are a few reasons why:
• Normal development and the stress that comes with it
• Fighting for independence from parents
• Sex hormones / puberty
• Problems and/or failing in school
• Breaking up with boyfriend or girlfriend
• Death of a family member or friend
Moreover, teens with low self-esteem, who are highly critical of themselves, or have a family history of depression are at a greater risk for depression.
If you are concerned that your teen may be showing signs of depression, breathe, and then have a talk with them. Identify any changes in their environment that may have contributed to their change in mood. Let them know that you love and support them and that they can talk with you at any time about anything.
Finally, do NOT diagnose your teen; schedule an evaluation and assessment with a qualified therapist in your area. The 15 year old in the example above was suffering from depression and in talking with her therapist, she learned healthy ways of coping with and managing her depressive symptoms and started to re-engage with her friends and family over time.