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Recognizing the signs of depression in your teen

Mirmont Outpatient Center - Broomall May 24, 2018 Child and Adolescent Health

Navigating your teenage years isn’t easy. Between exploring new relationships, academic demands and puberty, being a teenager can be exciting, confusing and anxiety-inducing all at once. It’s no surprise, then, that a rising number of teens are struggling with depression.

According to the Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 12.5 percent of adolescents ages 12–17 had at least one major depressive episode (MDE) in 2015—a three percent increase from 2004. In order to qualify as suffering from an MDE, teens had to have experienced a depressed mood or loss of interest and symptoms like trouble sleeping, lower self-esteem and changes in appetite, energy and concentration for at least two weeks.

Of course, as any parent of a teenager can attest, changes like these might not always be easy to notice. After all, it’s not uncommon for your teenage son or daughter to feel sluggish, act moody and even struggle with self-esteem. How can you tell if these habits are just a part of growing up, or if your teen is suffering from depression?

“One of the first signs that we see among our patients is a difference in their social life and habits,” says Chris Edwards, manager of the Mirmont Outpatient Center in Broomall, part of Main Line Health. “It may be someone who was on the baseball team or cheerleading squad last year but seems to be not interested this year or who quit the team abruptly.”

Failing grades or spending markedly less time with friends and teammates can also be early indicators of depression symptoms.

Offering support for your child

Even if you’ve noticed changes in your son’s or daughter’s behavior, it’s not always easy to know what to do first. Having an open and honest conversation can be difficult, and you don’t want to come across as a helicopter parent. Edwards says the most important thing for a parent or guardian to do is notify a behavioral health professional to ask for help as early as possible.

If you notice that your teen has fallen off the honor roll or is more withdrawn than usual, talk to other adults like guidance counselors, teachers and coaches to see if they’ve noticed a difference, too. They might be able to provide clues as to what caused this change—are dynamics changing on a team or in school? Are college visits coming up soon?

Armed with this knowledge, make time to talk to your teen. Ask them directly if there’s something going on at home, at school or among their friends that’s caused this change. Often they have an answer, says Edwards, but parents need to be willing to listen.

“You and your child might not see eye-to-eye on what makes something a big deal or causes one of these depressive episodes, but what’s important is that you make time to help them solve the problem and, if needed, seek treatment to help relieve them of their symptoms.”

Seeking treatment for your child

There are several different options for depression treatment. The severity of depression symptoms will help dictate what option is right for your teen.

If your son or daughter is mostly experiencing loss of interest and subtle changes in their mood or behavior, one-on-one therapy can be a good first step. Sometimes, the opportunity to talk to a therapist—who can provide an objective outlook to a situation—is enough to help ease these symptoms and make your teen feel heard and understood.

Group therapy can also be beneficial.

“We’ve found that when teenagers are in a group with others who feel the same way, it’s a very liberating experience,” says Edwards. “When you’re at home and isolating yourself in your room, you feel alone. But in group therapy with other people like you, you don’t feel as alone. This can change someone’s perspective almost instantly.”

If, however, your teenager’s symptoms are more severe or they have thoughts of harming themselves or others, inpatient hospitalization or partial hospitalization may be necessary. Your child’s doctor or a behavioral health professional can conduct a depression screening to help you better understand what level of care is appropriate.

Regardless, it’s important to take the first step.

“When depression symptoms snowball, they become harder to treat and address. It’s always better to intervene early than to wait for symptoms to progressively get worse,” says Edwards.

Compassionate care close to home

Mental and emotional well-being are integral to a healthy life. When people suffer with mental illness, it significantly impacts all aspects of their lives, including family, relationships, employment, leisure activities, and the basic satisfaction experienced from fully participating in life. Main Line Health Behavioral Health provides programs and services that help people work through the issues that are keeping them from engaging in life.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.