Is my teenager depressed? How can I help?

When it comes to teenage depression the first thing to remember is that it is more than just bad moods or the occasional sad moment. Depression can leave your teenager feeling overwhelmed with anger, despair or sadness. Furthermore it is not something your teenager can simply “snap out of”.

Common symptoms include:

  • Tearfulness
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Exhaustion or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anger, hostility or irritability

So how can you tell if your teenager is depressed or just displaying “teenage moodiness”? If you are unsure, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How long have these symptoms been present?
  2. How severe are they?
  3. How different is your teenager being from the way they used to behave?

Depressed teenagers can often appear different from depressed adults. Things to be aware of:

  1. They are more likely to present as angry/hostile and easily frustrated, more so than depressed adults.
  2. They are often very sensitive to criticism and respond with feelings of rejection.
  3. Depressed adults tend to withdraw from relationships/friendships – depressed teenagers often maintain some friendships, although they may socialise less than they did.

How can you help?

  1. Encourage your teenager to talk, if not to you then to a teacher, friend, grand parent or counsellor. It doesn’t matter who, just get them talking.
  2. Once they are talking it’s important to “really listen”. Try not to problem solve or get angry and give any ultimatums. Stay calm and let them see your willingness to “hear” them.
  3. Validate their feelings – let them see you take the way they are feeling seriously.
    Encourage physical activity.

Suicidal feelings

Every parent fears that their teenager might have suicidal thoughts. It’s important to know that the more suicidal feelings, thoughts and fears can be talked about the less likely it is that anything will happen. This is because these feelings are being heard, received and thought about in the open. Difficult feelings that are shared are easier to bear and so less likely to be acted upon.

Seek professional support from your GP or health visitor if you feel your teenager needs more help than you are able to provide.

Think about getting professional Counselling support for yourself. Counselling can provide a helpful space for you to deal with your own feelings and needs, helping to keep them away from your teenager and leaving you free to focus on their needs.

Finally, remember other family members like siblings and grandparents, and seek out support for them also.