Parenting is hard work. Although you may have barely survived your child’s toddlerhood or middle-school angst, the teen years are a new experience altogether. As a teenager, your child might be perfectly good-natured one day and moody, rebellious, or self-centered the next.
With the teen years bringing increased societal pressures and changing hormones, these behaviors in your child shouldn’t be surprising, but when they become lasting or self-destructive, it could be a sign that your teen is experiencing depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly one in 10 teens experience depression, so it’s important for parents to better understand this serious health problem.
Risk Factors for Teen Depression
Any teen can experience depression, but certain risk factors might make some teens more susceptible. Gender, for example, can be a risk factor. About 20 percent of teenage females experience depression compared to about 7 percent of teenage males, according to Pew Research. Additional common risk factors for teenage depression include:
- Abuse or neglect
- Chronic illness or disease
- Existence of a learning disability
- Existence of another mental health condition like anxiety or anorexia
- Family history of depression
- Trauma like divorce or the death of a family member
Warning Signs of Teen Depression
Teens may experience depression differently than adults. Parents worried about depression in teens should look for these warning signs:
- Prolonged sadness, anger, and/or irritability
- Disconnection from friends and family
- Lack of interest in activities
- Dietary and/or sleep changes
- Extreme fatigue
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Troubles with concentration
- Problems at school
- Substance abuse and other destructive behaviors
- Negative self-talk
- Language alluding to death or suicide
Fostering Good Mental Health
To ensure good mental health in teens and other children, start with good physical health. Provide nutritious food at home and build strong parent-child connections with regular family dinners. Make sure your kids have a comfortable place to sleep and a quiet place to study. Encourage physical pursuits, plan outdoor activities, and limit screen time for kids of all ages.
Encourage open communication with your teen by listening and showing support instead of judgment. Discover your child’s interests and participate in them when you can — even if they may not seem interesting to you. Foster creative self-expression in teens by allowing them to decorate their own rooms and choose their own clothing.
Help your teen develop coping skills by looking at situations in a more positive light and by breaking overwhelming tasks into smaller steps. Ensure your child’s physical safety by keeping track of his or her whereabouts and by establishing a curfew. Always keep weapons, alcohol, and prescription medicines in locked cabinets.
Seeking Professional Help
If you notice significant changes in your teen’s mood or behavior that last for more than a few weeks, seek professional help from a therapist or doctor. If your child undergoes treatment, make sure they follow the prescribed plan by taking required medications as directed and attending therapy sessions. Keep telephone numbers for your teen’s doctor and therapist handy as well as the phone number for your local mental health crisis center.
For more information on teen depression and other serious issues — from anxiety and addiction to academic problems — explore Turning Winds. This family-run therapeutic boarding school serves struggling teens from 13 to 18 years of age using an outdoor experiential therapeutic model.