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Recognizing Depression in Teens: The Signs You Need to Know

Depression in teens can manifest in various ways. What may seem like normal teenage behaviour or the result of hormonal changes could be the beginnings of teen depression. Recognizing the symptoms right away is your best chance to help them through it.

Depression in teens is different than in adults because they are exposed to different triggers, environments and challenges. Watch out for these warning signs.

Signs of Depression in Teens

Depression and sadness are not the same. Depression can be debilitating, and is a serious health risk, especially for children.

Depressive disorders in children and adolescents include the following:

Note that this list should only serve as a guide. A physician will be better able to distinguish normal behaviours from these disorders.

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) is characterized by severe tantrums that interfere with a child’s ability to function. Its key feature is chronic irritability that manifests between episodes of tantrums and anger.

Children with DMDD usually display the following symptoms.

The diagnosis of DMDD is only applicable between the ages six to 18, with the onset of symptoms occurring before they are 10 years old. DMDD can often develop into other kinds of disorders in late adolescence and adulthood.

Major Depressive Episode/Disorder

When people talk about depression in teens, many of them refer to Major Depressive Episode/Disorder (MDE). MDE is a combination of depressed mood and loss of interest that lasts for the majority of every day and for at least two weeks.

Children with MDE must meet at least five of the following criteria, with at least one being symptom one or two. Note that these behaviours may also be due to or occurring simultaneously with substance abuse or other medical conditions.

 A teenage boy looking sad in front of a black background

Persistent Depressive Disorder

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD) or Dysthymic Disorder is characterized by depression or irritability that has persisted almost daily for at least one year. In adults, the minimum duration before diagnosis can be made is two years.

Teens experiencing PDD may have two or more of the following symptoms.

Teens with PDD are never without depression or irritability and at least two of the listed symptoms for more than two months at a time. Because some symptoms of PDD overlap with other disorders, a child may receive comorbid diagnoses.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) happens to some girls about a week before their period. Because of the spike in hormones, a female teen with PMDD may experience symptoms similar to MDE five to eight days before their period. These symptoms should then subside when their period begins.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression in teens that begins and ends at approximately the same time every year, for at least two consecutive years.

Children and teens with SAD experience major depressive disorder at specific months—usually during winter—when most people get less sunlight. However, some can experience SAD during summer as sunlight impacts their internal clocks.

SAD symptoms can vary in severity. For a condition to qualify as SAD, a physician will carefully evaluate the patient for symptoms of major depression and rule out other potential reasons for the patient’s depressed mood.

How to Help a Teen With Depression

 A group of friends by the water.

If you suspect your child is suffering from teen depression, here are some ways to help:

Practice Active Listening

When talking to your child, give them your full attention. Make sure you understand them by confirming what they say. You may respond with words and/or physical comfort. 

Whether you agree or not, acknowledge their feelings and help them understand their emotions so they can deal with those feelings better.

Do Regular Check-Ins

Teens who feel alone may experience intrusive and destructive thoughts. No matter how busy you are, make sure to set aside time to talk to your children.

Set Realistic Expectations

Each child has a different set of skills and talents. Learn to appreciate and nurture these differences instead of forcing them to meet specific ideals.

Offer Emotional Support

Depressed teens are very vulnerable. Offering emotional support can help ease their negative feelings. Also, help them foster friendships and family bonds by encouraging and supporting socialization, but be wary of potentially harmful social media trends.

Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle

Encouraging healthy eating, exercising, getting enough sunlight and sleeping regularly can help improve your child’s mental health.

Promoting healthy habits such as fun hobbies or sports, listening to and watching teen-friendly shows, and doing mindfulness and meditation exercises can also aid in improving their mood and overall well-being. Doing these things together is even better.

Get Professional Support

Depression in teens is tricky to diagnose. Consulting a professional about your child’s mental health is the best way to ensure they get the care that they need. This might include therapy and medication, apart from familial and peer support.

Depression In Teens: Ask An Expert

Differentiating between normal and problematic behaviour is the key to keeping your teen safe and healthy. This is easier said than done, though. Depression in teens can be confusing for both parents and the children dealing with its effects.

Teen depression might feel like a guessing game, but it doesn’t have to be.

Get professional help by calling us at Freedom From Addiction.


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