Teenage angst or something more serious?
Teenage angst and cynicism, darkness and moroseness is often characterised as part of the adolescent experience. However what if you or a loved one is actually suffering from depression or anxiety?
Adolescence is a tumultuous, restrictive, confusing and confronting period. According to developmental and evolutionary psychologists, this is the period in our development where we fight for and find our position on the social ladder. How do we find this out? By figuring out how well we fit in with our peer group. So it’s a time of great anxiety, self-consciousness and has as many fails as successes in the social sense. In addition, it’s a time when a lot of your time is spent doing things that you aren’t yet developed enough to understand will be beneficial to your future.
In teenagers, some of the symptoms of depression are slightly different than for adults. These include:
• 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 through therapy. A clinical psychologist could also provide parents with invaluable information, education as well as skills and advice. Many parents feel lost and fearful when their child presents with depression but there is help for both adolescents and their parents.
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.