Teenage angst or something more serious?
Teenage angst and cynicism is often regarded a normal passage through which the adolescent passes. However, we also know that a growing number of adolescents have significant symptoms of depression and anxiety and rarely ask for or receive proper and effective treatment. Parents can become very confused over signs of normal developmental mood swings and signs that something more serious may be going on. To complicate things further, teens are also at times confused about their moods as well.
Its no surprise really. Adolescence is a tumultuous, restrictive, confusing and confronting period. According to developmental and evolutionary psychologists, this is the period when we fight for and find our position on the social ladder. Our social attractiveness is constantly being evaluated, judged, criticised and compromised while adolescents navigate this social minefield.
It’s a time of great anxiety, self-consciousness and has as many fails as it has successes in the social sense. In addition, it’s a time when a lot of your time is spent doing things that aren’t particularly fun (such as going to school). Add to this the pressure of academic or sporting success and a time when you often feel at odds with your parents and you may begin to understand why this is such a tough period for many.
In teenagers, some of the symptoms of depression are slightly different than for adults. Moods can quickly swing from high to low, usually due to how good or bad the day was and this is also very confusing for the adults and the adolescent. Here are some symptoms to be aware of:
• Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying
• Hopelessness (Teens may feel that life is not worth living or worth the effort to even maintain their appearance or hygiene. They may believe that a negative situation will never change and be pessimistic about their future.)
• Decreased interest in activities; or inability to enjoy previously favourite activities
• Persistent boredom; low energy (Lack of motivation and lowered energy level is reflected by missed classes or not going to school. A drop in grade averages can be equated with loss of concentration and slowed thinking.)
• Social isolation, poor communication (There is a lack of connection with friends and family. Teens may avoid family gatherings and events. Teens who used to spend a lot of time with friends may now spend most of their time alone and without interests. Teens may not share their feelings with others, believing that they are alone in the world and no one is listening to them or even cares about them.)
• Low self esteem and guilt
• Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
• Increased irritability, anger, or hostility (Depressed teens are often irritable, taking out most of their anger on their family. They may attack others by being critical, sarcastic, or abusive. They may feel they must reject their family before their family rejects them.)
• Difficulty with relationships
• Frequent complaints of physical illnesses, such as headaches and stomachaches (Teens may complain about lightheadedness or dizziness, being nauseous, and back pain. Other common complaints include headaches, stomachaches, vomiting, and menstrual problems.)
• Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school (Children and teens who cause trouble at home or at school may actually be depressed but not know it. Because the child may not always seem sad, parents and teachers may not realize that the behavior problem is a sign of depression.)
• Poor concentration
• A major change in eating or sleeping patterns (sleep disturbance may show up as all-night television watching, difficulty in getting up for school, or sleeping during the day. Loss of appetite may become anorexia or bulimia. Eating too much may result in weight gain and obesity.)
• Talk of or efforts to run away from home
• Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behavior
Teens who are depressed may say they want to be dead or may talk about suicide. Depressed children and teens are at increased risk for committing suicide. If a child or teen says, “I want to kill myself,” or “I’m going to commit suicide,” always take the statement seriously and seek evaluation from a child and adolescent psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. Likewise self-harm and self-injury and substance abuse may be expressions of their depression. Rather, than believing that this is attention seeking behaviour it is important to recognise these as signs of depression.
People often feel uncomfortable talking about death. However, asking whether he or she is depressed or thinking about suicide can be helpful. Rather than “putting thoughts in the child’s head,” such a question will provide assurance that somebody cares and will give the young person the chance to talk about problems.
Professional therapy with a clinical psychologist is important to minimise risk and teach skills to overcome depression. Many teens will openly talk about therapy being a turning point for their adult years and have learned lifelong lessons and skills with therapy. A clinical psychologist could also provide parents with invaluable information, education, skills and advice. Many parents feel lost and fearful when their teen presents with depression but there is a lot of help that may be available.
If you recognise some of these symptoms in your child we encourage you to talk with your child, your doctor or contact us to discuss further. We have years of experience working with teens and adolescents as well as their parents with much success.
However, we also know that a growing number of adolescents have significant symptoms of depression and anxiety and rarely ask for or receive proper and effective treatment.