Is My Teen Depressed?

by Meghan Cole, LPC, CSAC

Adolescent development is a fascinating thing. Teens change month to month, sometimes week to week, leaving the rest of us confused and feeling like we’re always one step behind. Although this is often stressful and irritating to parents, in reality, these changes are a good thing. Some teens become so involved in extracurricular activities; you might hear them say school gets in the way. Some teens develop such robust friendships that all else in the world gets left behind. Yet other teens use their adolescent years to catch up on what seems like a never ending need for sleep, while others dip into the dangerous world of illicit drug use. So which path is the “right” way? Truthfully, there is no “right” way. What we can look at instead is some of the normal hallmarks of adolescence where a ton of emotional and social changes occur, and then some red flags for when parents may want to consider counseling for their teens to help them navigate through this difficult time.

Adolescence is a time of self-discovery. Teens learn about who they are and develop feelings of pride and self-confidence. Self-esteem is generally on the rise along with assertion of independence from parents. Although this self-discovery process is a positive and necessary thing, don’t forget that it often comes with cranky, irritable, and/or stubborn responses to even your simplest requests as your teen is negotiating between the total independence they think they want, and the parental support that they still need. Teens can benefit from stretching their independence through extracurricular activities where they can safely take on responsible roles and experience a variety of opportunities that can support identity development. Emotionally healthy teens can be difficult teens. They can be happy and sad, and you can be glad knowing that a range of emotions is not a bad thing.

So if healthy teens can be sad, irritable and cranky, how can I know if my teen is depressed?  Parents everywhere are wondering the same thing. Teens go through many emotional stages, sometimes many friends, and varying states of wanting to be a child versus wanting to be seen as an adult. Their peer world becomes extremely important and time spent as a family quickly dwindles.  Increase the volume on everything I’ve mentioned thus far and you can better recognize the symptoms of adolescent depression. Specifically, pay attention to drops in academic performance, negative changes in friendships or socializing (ex: withdrawing), troubles with you or the family that is more than just a bad day, and changes in activities such as losing interest. Alone none of these are significant red flags for depression, but I encourage you to evaluate further if you notice more than one of these changes in your teen.  Troubles now and again with your teen because of their mood are normal, but new troubles on an increasing basis are a cause for concern.

In addition to depression, teens are faced with many other challenges. Bullying is increasingly getting more media attention, anxiety over life pressures and college recruitment is on the rise, and drug abuse and dependence continues to be a devastating affliction for many adolescents.  Add on the struggles of young love and the changes in hormones as we grow and adolescence is certainly a challenging time in life.