Understanding Depression in Young People

As every parent knows, adolescence can be a roller coaster of emotions. Sadness, irritability, and mood swings are part of the journey of growing up. However, when behavior becomes a pattern lasting longer than two weeks, growing in intensity without mixed periods of joy, you may want to take some notice and ask yourself, “Which is it? Normal youth angst or the warning signs of something more serious?”

Typical Young Person Behavior?
Depression-Fueled Patterns
Erratic sleep patterns Sleeping and napping a lot, or alternatively feeling exhausted during the day and wide awake at night. Not getting enough quality sleep can quickly impact a young persons mood.
Appetite changes Sudden weight gain or weight loss. Eating more or less than what’s typical for your young person.  Eating more high carb foods that can mimic feel-good chemicals in the brain.
Physical aches and pains When it comes to mental health the mind/body connection is real. Depression can show up as headaches, stomachache or muscle soreness.
Poor attention span, motivation, energy level A young person with depression can have difficulty initiating tasks, keeping focused attention or completing schoolwork.  When faced with a challenge, they may lose interest quickly or give up easily.
Irritability A tough one for parents. Reading the signals of typical tween/teen attitude can take some patience and further exploration.  Ask yourself is your child grumpy in several settings – at school, with friends? Are there mood swings with no apparent reason?
Apathy On the other end of the spectrum, a depressed child may show little emotion and may describe their feelings as numb, blank or neutral.
Feeling down in the dumps, sadness (with or without reason) There may be a valid reason to feel sad to trigger depression, or no specific reason at all. Guilt and shame are often associated feelings with depression. Questions like, “Why so sad? What do you have to feel depressed about?”  are generally unhelpful and even hurtful.
Low esteem, thoughts of worthlessness There is more to depression than just feelings and emotions.  It’s important to talk to understand the underlying thoughts connected to sad feelings. The first step is sit and have a conversation with your child — what’s going on — the next step could be to seek help, talk with teachers or bring your child to a counselor or psychiatrist.

Some of the warning signs of depression include:

  • Mood changes, like persistent sadness or irritability.
  • Changes in level of functioning, such as school failure.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family.
  • A loss of interest in activities that had been important.
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Nonspecific signs like lack of energy, trouble concentrating and unexplained aches and pains.