Children and teenagers may experience depression differently than adults, however like their adult counterparts, children and adolescent sufferers are at an increased risk of attempting or committing suicide. According to Wikipedia, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that up to 7% of teenagers who develop depression may commit suicide. Additionally, they report that suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers who are 15 – 19 years old.
It’s normal for adolescents to go through ups and downs especially as they have to navigate through hormonal changes, peer pressure and other stressors. However, if the “lows” persist for more than a few weeks, they could be depressed. If signs of depression continue to get worse, it’s time to get help. These symptoms would be a departure from the teenager’s previous attitude, mood, or behavior.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression does not get better on its own. It can get worse and lead to more severe issues if left untreated. It also puts teenagers at higher risk for suicide, so it’s important to seek help immediately.
- Sadness which doesn’t seem to go away and can cause crying spells for no apparent reason.
- Loss of interest in activities
- Feeling guilty
- Ongoing fatigue
- Headaches and other physical aches and pains
- Increased sensitivity to criticism
- Changes in weight
- Trouble concentrating (grades may be affected)
- Feeling worthless
- Fixation on failures
- Low self-esteem
- Frequent thoughts of suicide or death
Behavioral Changes to Watch Out For
Adolescents’ behavioral changes associated with depression can be different from that of adults’. For example, children or teenagers may begin to “act out” their feelings of depression by becoming more rebellious or having angry outbursts. Other behavioral changes that could be signs of depression include:
- Sleeping too much and/or no motivation to get out of bed in the morning
- Not being able to sleep
- Decreased or increased appetite which may manifest as losing or gaining weight
- Restlessness/agitation – this can manifest as not being able to sit still, pacing, or becoming more fidgety
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Complaints of aches and pains or not feeling well – this may lead to increased visits to see the school nurse or being absent from school
- Isolation from social situations or family participation
- A decline in academic performance or a sudden decrease in grades
- Not paying attention to hygiene or less time spent on personal appearance
- Being quick to anger or lose temper
- Risky or reckless behavior
- Self-harm – this can include cutting
- Excessive use of smart phone or internet (this can also increase depression symptoms)
- Low energy levels, feeling fatigued
- Problems at school including absenteeism and tardiness
- Getting into trouble at school for behavior issues
- Getting into trouble with the law
If you’re a teenager and you are experiencing these types of feelings or behavior, it’s important to reach out for help. Talk to someone such as a parent, friend, teacher, coach, school counselor, or another family member.
If your home situation is dysfunctional or you are a victim of abuse, talk to a relative or a teacher or counselor. Tell somebody. You do not ever deserve to be abused by anyone, whether it’s from a bully, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a parent, or anyone else.
If you are a parent of a depressed teenager, take action. Talk with your teen. Encourage open dialogue. Get help. Your child’s pediatrician or family doctor is a good place to start. Create a safe environment where your teen feels comfortable talking to you about serious issues by not being judgmental or getting mad at them about the feelings that they are experiencing. If you feel your teen needs counseling, get a referral from your doctor, or even the school nurse or guidance counselor.
When to Get Emergency Help
If you are having thoughts of suicide or of harming yourself, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY. Don’t isolate yourself. Tell someone how you are feeling, such as your parent, teacher, a relative, friends, etc. If you are alone, get out around people where you will be less likely to harm yourself.
If you are a parent and you are afraid that your child is at risk of harming themselves or others, call 911. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CHILD ALONE.
Other options if you or your teen are having suicidal thoughts include:
- Call the suicide hotline. Someone will answer the phone 24/7. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline telephone number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also go to their webchat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.
- Call TEENLINE 24/7 at 800-852-8336.
- Call SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) at 1-800-487-4889. They are also available 24/7 and all calls are confidential.
- If you are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
- Contact your family doctor, pediatrician, or mental health professional.
Causes of Depression
- Hormonal imbalances
- Brain chemistry changes
- Chronic pain or illness
- Having an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia
- Physical illness
- ADHD or other learning disability
- Being bullied
- Trauma from abuse or violence
- Confusion regarding sexual identify, especially in an unsupportive environment
- Death of a loved one
- Parents divorcing
- Early childhood traumas including emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
- Spending too much time on social media
- Loneliness or feeling socially isolated
- Peer pressure
- Witnessing violence such as physical or sexual abuse
- Unhealthy or dysfunctional family environment such as having a parent who is an alcoholic, drug addict, or is chronically ill
- Other mental illness such as anxiety or being bipolar
- Alcohol or drug abuse
It’s impossible to prevent everything that can cause depression, however there are ways to help. One way is to talk about it or reach out for support especially during crises.
For parents, seek out treatment for your teenager at the earliest sign of a problem. The pediatrician or family practitioner is often a good place to start and they can provide a referral for a mental health specialist. Maintain ongoing treatment or counseling to help prevent recurrence.
Your Life Matters
It may feel like you’re alone or that your situation won’t improve. Those are symptoms of the depression. If you feel suicidal or are having thoughts of suicide, call 911 or the Suicide Hotline, and tell someone else how you’re feeling.