Depression is on the rise. When it comes to mental health, America is starting to come around to the importance of providing access to care and eliminating the stigma surrounding treatment. Leaders in adolescent psychiatry note that, although young people often struggle with mood swings and angst, we should pay attention when our teens struggle with difficult emotions, especially in the wake of the youth mental health crisis. In other words, while every teenager is likely to be moody at some point, it’s important for family members to keep a close eye on teens that seem to be struggling more often than not.
It can be difficult to discern depression symptoms with teen angst, mood swings, and adolescent troubles, which normally pass in time. Particularly if they begin displaying other symptoms outside of moodiness, like social withdrawal, a change in appetite, or even talk of suicide; these are warning signs that your teen may be struggling with a mental health condition like major depression.
Are mood swings normal in teens?
Experiencing mood swings is very common in pre-teens and teenagers. Once puberty hits, the teenage brain changes rapidly, resulting in mood swings, poor emotional regulation, and flawed decision-making. The emotional, physical, psychological, and social changes that teens experience in a short time period can be extremely overwhelming for them to try and process.
Hormones also play a role in mood, particularly for teenagers. When they experience stress or anxiety, teens can lash out or be more irritable than usual. These symptoms and behaviors are normal and are expected in young people as their bodies and hormones develop.
It’s one thing to feel sad about something that happened at school or a fight with a friend; the emotion of feeling “down in the dumps” typically passes after a few days.
However, if there is a family history of depression, it’s worth paying closer attention to, as mental illnesses like depression can often be linked to genetics, along with many external factors outside of our DNA.
The Pressures Young People Face
Depression in teens is becoming so common because of the unusual pressures and stress that young people face today.
The pressures to keep up their academics, participate in sports, clubs, and extracurriculars at school, and get accepted into a great college are far more overwhelming than they have been for past generations.
Young people are also navigating the toxic digital world of social media, which has been directly linked to teen depression, the development of mental illness, and even teen suicide.
Peer pressure, whether online or in school, is detrimental to young people’s mental health and can influence the decisions they make. Peer pressure can stem from anything including bullying, family difficulties cheating on a test, drinking alcohol, or drug abuse. These negative patterns can be a side effect of peer pressure.
Many young people feel the pressure to contribute to their family financially, whether that’s at an after-school job or skipping class to work.
If you think your teenager is more stressed than normal or if they seem to be under a lot of pressure, encourage open conversations in your home. Try to check in with them often and set aside one-on-one time where they can talk openly without feeling judged or criticized. The expectations to perform in school or in sports often start at home, so be sure to manage your expectations of your child, their performance, and what pressure you are putting on them.
Recognizing Adolescent Depression
Studies show that one in five teenagers suffer from clinical depression, and this statistic is increasing at an alarming rate. It’s important to establish boundaries out of respect for your teenager, but you also have to be able to decide when it’s time to intervene if you think they are suffering.
The following symptoms can be indicators of depression, especially if they’ve been present in your teen for more than two weeks.
- Social withdrawal, lack of interest in friends, sports, hobbies
- Grades slipping or poor school performance
- Feel hopeless or sad feelings
- Rage or angry outbursts
- Low self-esteem
- Extreme sensitivity or irritability
- Trouble concentrating
- Signs of self-harm
- Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
- Substance abuse
If you become alarmed or concerned with your child’s behavior or symptoms, don’t look the other way if you see these warning signs. If they are displaying signs of mental illness, contact a mental health professional immediately. Depressed teens need immediate treatment so their condition does not become life-threatening. You may be saving your teen’s life by contacting their doctor, so don’t hesitate if you feel something is truly wrong.
Treating Teen Depression & Major Depressive Disorder
The good news is that treating adolescent depression is possible and it yields optimistic and positive results. Most teens that seek treatment for their depression find recovery possible with professional help.
In therapy, your teen will gain coping skills and learn how depression affects their ability to handle life’s challenges. Here are some of the ways young people can overcome depression when seeking mental health support.
Support groups can be a beneficial resource for teens as they battle severe depression or other mental disorders. For some young people, building connections with people who are experiencing similar symptoms and struggles can be very therapeutic. Making connections with other young people may encourage them to open up more and share their vulnerabilities.
Family therapy is also beneficial for teens with depression, as the family dynamic can dramatically impact a child’s mental health. In therapy, family members can improve their relationships, function together to deal with a family member’s depression, and learn new ways to cope and communicate.
This modality teaches young people about their relationships at home and with their peers at school. Interpersonal therapy focuses on how relationship issues are related to the onset or ongoing occurrence of depressive symptoms.
In therapy, teens will learn how their feelings and mood may be impacted by their relationships and the conflicts they have. Teens will improve their communication and problem-solving skills, improve social skills, and learn to decrease the stress they experience in particular relationships that may lead to depressive symptoms.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
CBT helps young people recognize and change negative feelings and patterns of thinking and behaving. CBT teaches coping skills and social problem-solving, along with the value of social interaction and activities.
Through CBT, teens will gain the skills to interpret their environment differently and reframe their thoughts to produce better outcomes in situations. Reframing thoughts is helpful for those struggling with depression because it interrupts damaging thoughts that lead to addictive or destructive behaviors.
CBT helps young people identify misperceptions and distorted thinking, change behavioral patterns, and modify beliefs about themselves, others, and the world. CBT is designed to help patients develop lifelong skills so they can stay in recovery and avoid having those negative thoughts and feelings.
Medications are commonly used to treat depression and are effective at helping teens find relief and recovery. For major depressive disorder, Lexapro and Prozac are commonly used to treat teen depression and anxiety. There are fair concerns about antidepressant medications for teens, as some have been linked to an increase in suicidal thoughts, so it’s important to be aware of these risk factors when starting your teen on medication.
However, when paired with psychotherapy, medication is highly effective in achieving improvements in teens’ mental health and depression symptoms.
If you ever feel like your teen is struggling with thoughts of suicide or may make a suicide attempt, call the suicide hotline immediately at 1-800-273-8255 for help from a mental health professional.
Teen Depression is Highly Treatable. Clear Recovery Center Can Help.
Depression in teens is a serious problem in this country, and the sooner you seek treatment for your teenager, the better. If you are concerned about your child, another family member, or a friend who is showing the warning signs of depression, it’s time to seek professional help. The team at Clear Recovery Center is here for you.
Clear Recovery Center firmly believes that change takes place in the context of relationships and community. By fostering a strong sense of connection in a safe space to experience all of the emotions associated with mental health and well-being, we are able to assist individuals to overcome their unique struggles, whether that be depression or any other mental health conditions. Contact us for more information.