It’s difficult for many adults to distinguish the fine line between sadness and depression. But when the sufferer is a teen, the line is even more likely to get blurred. The fact is about 5 percent of people under age 18 are depressed. Adolescent angst, peer pressure, school difficulties, a family history of depression and household tension can make some teens vulnerable to the disease. Unfortunately, because teen depression is easily mistaken for an identity crisis or an “attitude” problem, it often goes ignored.
Major life events, such as a recent divorce, a move or the death of a loved one, can trigger depression. A certain adjustment period is necessary, but if abnormal behavior persists for more than a few weeks, seek help for your child. Besides feeling sad and lonely, your teen may:
- have trouble falling asleep or wake up too early
- experience a change in eating habits
- no longer socialize with friends
- lose interest in favorite hobbies and activities
- stop doing homework
- cry excessively
- have headaches or stomachaches
- have trouble paying attention in class
Adolescents may hide their depression by acting out. Drinking, drugs and skipping school may seem like normal teenage rebellion, but in fact they are major red flags. Pay attention to your teenager’s changes in behavior. If suicide is ever mentioned—even as a joke—get help immediately.
Teens who miss a lot of school because of minor illnesses should also be evaluated. University of Minnesota researchers who studied 44 adolescents ages 12 to 19 with depression found that light-headedness, back pain, stomach pains, vomiting and menstrual problems were common reasons for skipping class.
Although a depressed teen’s symptoms may lift within months, that does not mean professional intervention isn’t necessary. Often, the episodes return, and behavioral or drug therapy may be necessary.
Remember that depression, like cancer or diabetes, isn’t the result of bad parenting. Parents cannot cause their child to be depressed, but they can avert problems by keeping an eye open to abnormal behaviors and seeking help when necessary.