We are all concerned about the health of our children from the moment that they emerge into the world, but an overlooked aspect of their health could turn out to be one of the biggest factors. A child's mental health, and, later in life, an adolescent's mental health, have huge effects on the way that our children and teens live. Problems like depression can affect the quality of life for your adolescent, and can even affect their physical health.
If you think that your adolescent may be depressed, look for the signs described in this article. If they exhibit several of the signs, consult with your pediatrician to see if they think that your teenager might be suffering from depression. Adolescent depression can cause symptoms such as:
Irregular sleep - Sometimes teenagers are just on a different sleep schedule than their parents. It is perfectly normal for a teen to stay up late at night and to want to sleep in well into the next day. This is not an attitude problem, but a rewiring of their brains that drives them to these "abnormal" hours. They will return to "normal" as time goes on. What is not normal is a teen that sleeps all the time, going to bed early, sleeping late, and retiring for naps. It is also not normal for an adolescent to suffer from insomnia. While these could be symptoms of other problems, they can also be signs of depression.
Lack of energy - Despite all that extra sleep, does your adolescent still seem fatigued or tired much of the time? Low energy and lots of sleep could be signs of a problem with the thyroid, it could be something else entirely, or it could be an example of a symptom of depression.
Loss of interest - It might be hard to tell if your child has become disinterested in things that used to interest them if they are not open with you, but it pays to pay close attention. If your adolescent is no longer interested in things like keeping in contact with their friends or in playing the latest video games, whatever he or she used to be excited about, then it could be cause for concern.
Change of appetite - Is your always-hungry teen suddenly disinterested in food? Is your teenager suddenly and uncharacteristically eating all the time (particularly "comfort foods" or sweets)? These could both be signs of depression, and should be watched carefully. They could also indicate problems like an eating disorder, and so should be taken seriously no matter what the circumstances.
Irritability - While it can be hard to tell if your teen is irritable in general or just snappy with you as an authority figure, it is good to note that excessive irritability may be a sign of depression.
A bleak outlook - If your child is suddenly talking in the negative or talking about suicide, chalking it up to "mood swings" can be a mistake that can have deadly consequences. This may be one of the most overlooked of the depression signs in adolescents because many parents feel that it is normal to be pessimistic in the teenage years. This is also often paired with self-loathing, which may manifest in a variety of ways including verbally ("I'm such a loser" or "No one likes me, anyway"), self-abuse like cutting, or talk of suicide.
You should never treat these symptoms in your adolescents as a bid for attention. While one or two of the symptoms may be symptomatic of other problems or just of being a teenager, they could also be symptoms of depression. If you see any number of these symptoms in your adolescent, it is imperative that you get into contact with their pediatrician as soon as possible.
While you may be able to talk to your teen about the depression, it really depends on your relationship with your adolescent and how you think that they will respond to your line of questioning. You should never accuse if you see warning signs of depression in your adolescent, but should talk gently with them to find out if they are willing to share their problems.
Depression in adolescents is a serious problem, but with close attention on your part and the intervention of a pediatrician with the right therapies or medications, you can effectively eliminate the immediate dangers of this terrible disease. Diagnosis and intervention can be the tools that help you save your adolescent from the dangers and pitfalls of this illness, and your awareness is what will get them there.