Teens can be moody, as anyone who has ever been one or is the parent of one will tell you. Disappointment and minor depression occurs in every life: It’s how your child handles his or her depression that makes the difference.
An alarming statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, and the fourth-leading cause of death for those between 10 and 14.
If this statistic concerns you, become familiar with the signs of clinical depression so you can help get your teen back on track and feeling fine about who they are:
• Is there a family history of depression? Does clinical depression, bipolar disorder or other mental health conditions run in the family? Some of these conditions are inheritable.
Have either of the following symptoms lasted a week or more?
• Has your teen displayed an unhealthy change in appetite? For instance, does your teen skip lunch, insist he is not hungry at dinner or will only eat junk foods?
• Is there a shift in behavior? Has she lost interest in friends? Has he decided the only company he wants is himself, holed up in his room with the door closed and unwilling to communicate with you? Have they lost interest in grooming? Sleeping more or noticeably less? (Note: medication may also have an effect in these areas so if your child is on medication, check with his pediatrician).
• Has there been a recent major change in your child’s life? A death of a loved one, break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend? Bad situations are a natural when we think of depression, but good ones may also have an adverse effect — moving to a new home might mean missing the old neighborhood, old school, old friends.
• Has your usually good-natured child changed into an irritable one? Has there been a loss of self-confidence, a feeling of “less than” or “not as good as” or other feelings of self-loathing? Is there some residual guilt over an incident?
How to help
• Don’t pre-judge. If your teens are willing to talk to you, listen throughout. Ask prompting, not probing, questions to see where you can help. Don’t assume your teen’s feelings are negligible because of age. A broken heart hurts just as badly at 15 as it does at 35; add to that a 15-year-old does not have the perspective on relationships that a 35-year-old has.
• Don’t minimize moody behavior as just a “phase.” If emotional problems could be easily fixed by “snapping out of it,” your depressed teen would happily oblige.
• Don’t compare. If your child could be like Eddie across the street — happy, engaged, doing well in school — he would.
• Don’t take over. As tempting as it is to confront the “mean girls” at school yourself about their behavior toward your daughter, walk through various scenarios with her to see how she can confront those girls on her own. If she wants to, that is; otherwise, don’t force it. Let her know that there have been “mean girls” since the beginning of time; relate your own experiences if they apply. Direct her to activities where she will feel more accepted (Does she like to ski? Is there a club at school?). This can help her rebuild her confidence and get perspective.
Tip from the parenting trenches: If your child is withdrawn or showing other signs of depression for a longer period of time than normal, you might want to seek professional help.
Choose a psychotherapist who will talk to your child in confidence, but who is willing to listen to your input on occasion.
Your child is the one who needs to feel comfortable with the therapist, but you must also feel assured that the full story is being told. A therapist can only work with what is in front of him. He or she is not a psychic.