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More than a “Bad Mood”: Identifying Teenage Depression

Jessica Stewart

Pensive sad boy teenager in a blue shirt and jeans sitting at the window and closes his face with his hands.Adolescence is riddled with changes, being a teen means wrestling with identity, self-image, belonging, and much more. There are constant transitions which can be confusing and difficult for parents and teens to navigate. We know another contributing factor is that biologically there is an increase in hormones due to puberty that can also lead to emotional changes. It is important to note that this is a normal experience of many parents and teens.

Understanding you are not alone in your experience can be comforting. But it is also important to ask the question: when it is more than just a bad mood?

Teenage Depression

Parents, teachers, caregivers, and teens alike can have difficulties determining the difference between moodiness and depression. Here are some important symptoms to pay attention to:

Withdrawal. This is often one of the first symptoms people tend to notice about someone experiencing depression. Also called anhedonia, lack of pleasure, where the teen stops participating in activities they once found enjoyable. They also tend to decrease communication with family, peers, teachers, and other individuals in their lives.

Low Moods. This is where teens can be labeled as being moody or having mood swings. Sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness are common emotions experienced with depression. However, your teen may also often display increased irritability, and anger. Negative thoughts, and views of themselves, their future, and the world can also exist.

Sleep Patterns. Teens may experience trouble falling asleep or oversleeping. Additionally, they may report or display feelings of tiredness or low energy.

Appetite. Watch their appetites, are they eating more than usual without reasonable explanation (increased physical activities, medication usage, etc.). Teens may also experience significant decrease in appetites, finding themselves rarely able to eat.

Feeling like a Failure. Often you will hear negative views of themselves expressing that “I let everyone down”, “I ruin things”, “I can’t do anything right”.

Lack of Concentration. Teens with depression may experience difficulty completing tasks like homework or classwork, sitting still in class, listening as teachers or adults speak. This can be mistaken for defiance, disrespectful, or conduct issues, it is important to offer genuine concern and desire for understanding to learn the reasons behind their behaviors.

Decreased psychomotor skills. Depression can impact language and mobility. Others may notice the teen moving or speaking slower than normal. Or the opposite may be true, students can find it extremely difficult to sit still or remain in one spot. They may be identified as being fidgety or restless.

Suicide Ideation or Self harm. A symptom of depression can be thoughts of suicide, or feeling that they would be better off dead, or wanting to harm themselves in some way. They may also participate in self harming behaviors.

All of these symptoms can point to signs of depression. In addition to the symptoms, it is important for parents, teens, and teachers to look at these three things to help them decide between a bad mood and depression:

  • Severity what areas of life it is impacting, and intensity of symptoms.
  • Duration how long it is lasting. Noticeable deterioration in behavior or mood that lasts two weeks or longer for major depression or more days than not for a year with Dysthymic disorder.
  • Domains what area of life does this impact: home, school, friends.

We know that depression untreated can lead to problematic outcomes for example suicidal behaviors and substance abuse. Fortunately, there is hope and early intervention leads to more favorable prognosis for teens. If you discover that you, your teen, or someone you know is struggling with depression, counseling may be a great place for you to start. Contact Summit Counseling Center today to hear about the groups, individual, and family therapy options we have available.

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