More Than a Phase: Symptoms of Depression in Teens

Let’s face it, being a teenager can be hard.  Your hormones are all out of balance and you’re growing rapidly, not a child but still not an adult yet.  Adolescence can be difficult and uncomfortable for many people, but where is the line drawn between typical teenage angst and depression.  Depression can become very serious and if not dealt with early on, it can result in life-long struggles for some teens.      

What is Depression

Major Depressive Disorder is categorized as a medical disorder that negatively impacts how you feel, think and act.  Depression is relatively common in teens, and if left untreated it may become chronic or more serious.  In fact, depression has become so common amongst adolescents that roughly 20 percent of teens experience depression before they reach adulthood.  Of course, certain factors cause some adolescents to be more at risk than others.  Some known risk factors of depression in teens include:

  • Female teens are twice as likely to develop depression than males
  • Previous history of abuse or neglect
  • Adolescents who suffer from chronic illness
  • Family history of depression or mental health struggles
  • Substance abuse
  • History of trauma    

If your child has been exposed to one or more of these risk factors, depression might be something to keep an eye on.  It is also possible that your child has not been exposed to any risk factors and may in fact still be experiencing depression.  The following are a few typical signs and symptoms of depression to look for in teens.

  • Having difficulty at school
  • Using alcohol or other substances
  • Reckless or violent behavior
  • Low self-esteem
  • Frequent feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, or irritability
  • Social withdrawal

Depression vs. “Teenage Angst”

So, what exactly is teenage angst?  Well, there is no medical definition for angst like there is for depression, but angst is typically known as a feeling of worry or dread.  Given the emotional turbulence caused by hormones in puberty, it is normal for teens to feel angst.  Angst may occur in semi-stressful situations such as going to play in a sporting match, preparing for a math test, or after having a disagreement with a friend.  All of these experiences may cause tension and frustration, which teens are still learning how to deal with, thus these frustrations may come out in the form of angst.  

Teenage angst is normal and typically nothing to be concerned about, but depression is much more serious and can even become life-threatening.  If left untreated, adolescent mental health issues can become adult mental health issues.  In order to distinguish teenage depression from angst, mental health professionals have identified 3 critical areas of concern that may indicate depression.  These three areas are:

  • The intensity and severity.  If the intensity of the symptoms begins to interfere with your child’s personal life or relationships it can be a sign of something more severe, and not just a passing condition.  
  • The duration or length of time.  Typically, feelings of angst arise in the midst of challenging or uncomfortable situations and do not persist overtime.  If you have noticed a consistent change in your child’s mood and behavior that lasts a few weeks or longer, they may be showing signs of depression or another mood disorder. 
  • The domains or experiences.  In which situations are symptoms arising?  Teens commonly show angst around authority figures or parents, but if they are beginning to show these symptoms around friends or in several areas of their life, it may indicate mental health concerns.  

What to Do About Depression Symptoms in Teens

If you suspect your teenager may be showing signs of depression, there are a variety of steps you can take to ensure that your child is getting the help and support they need.  If you are able, it is best to get a professional diagnosis, that way you may be able to differentiate between the types of depression and tailor your treatment to your needs.  In some cases, prescribed medication can be very helpful for those with depression, but most medications aren’t meant to be taken in the long-term, as your body builds resistance to them.  If you’re looking for a more natural approach, there are a variety of supplements that can be very helpful in alleviating symptoms of depression.  The following are ways you can help or support your teens mental health.

  1. Try therapy.  Traditional therapy has been shown to be very effective and beneficial in the mental health realm.  Speaking with a licensed therapist can teach teens how to work through their emotions and address problematic behaviors or thought processes, which may be contributing to their mental health.   
  2. Explore alternative therapies.  If you’re not interested in talk therapy, there are a variety of other therapeutic techniques and methods for improving mental health.  Acupuncture, meditation, yoga, and light therapy are all examples of alternative treatments that may be able to ease your teens depression.   
  3. Encourage exercise.  Regular physical activity can help to ease depression by releasing feel good chemicals into the brain that enhance your sense of well-being.  Encourage your teen to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week. 
  4. Eat a well-balanced diet.  Diet has shown a strong link to depression and mental health in general.  Eating an excess of sugar and fatty foods cause inflammation within the body which can lead to poor mental health.  Eating foods rich in nutrients such as fruits, nuts, and vegetables have anti-inflammatory properties, improving overall health and wellbeing.
  5. Practice self-care.  It is important to teach and set examples as to how to practice self-care for your teenager.  Ways to practice self-care include getting healthy amounts of sleep, living a healthy lifestyle, learning how to set boundaries, and participating in activities you enjoy.

Asheville Academy can help

If you are a parent concerned about your child’s mental health, there are luckily many resources that may be able to help you support your child.  Asheville Academy offers a comprehensive treatment program, accredited academics, and a beautiful, safe campus for young girls, ages 10-14, struggling with emotional and behavioral issues.

For more information about Asheville Academy, please call (800) 264-8709. 

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