The teenage years are notoriously filled with high-stakes emotions and dramatic encounters. But while parents might be quick to dismiss verbal outbursts and instances of rebellion as run-of-the-mill melodrama, the reality is that your son or daughter could be waging an internal battle you know nothing about.

As is the case with many other mental health issues, depression can be difficult to recognize for what it is and even more challenging for the outsider to understand. However, given how common depression is and the potential dangers that come along with this condition, it’s essential that parents make a concerted effort to effectively address this mental health issue sooner rather than later.

The prevalence of depression

Although there’s quite a lot of misinformation about depression, it’s actually the most common mental health disorder in today’s world. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 322 million people currently live with depression worldwide.

In the United States, an estimated 16.2 million adults (or 4.3 percent of all US adults) over the age of 18 experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2016. Among adolescents aged 12 to 17, 3.1 million (or 12.8 percent of that population) had at least one major depressive episode that same year. In other words, a much higher proportion of teens experience symptoms of depression during the average year than adults do.

According to research, anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment. Startlingly, 60 percent of adolescents who experienced a major depressive episode in 2016 did not receive any form of treatment.

And because untreated depression can lead to issues such as substance abuse and addiction, academic problems, disordered eating, and suicidal ideation, it’s essential that parents and other trusted family members learn to recognize the signs early on.

Common symptoms of depression in teens

For many parents, differentiating teenage moodiness from depression can be tough. One important distinction between diagnosable depression and merely feeling down in the dumps is how long the symptoms last. As a parent, you’ll want to pay very close attention if your teen has been experiencing the following signs for more than two weeks. Here’s what you should look for:

  • Irritability, frustration, or anger
  • Sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Unexplained crying spells
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, alongside self-critical comments
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness or low self-esteem
  • Poor academic performance or frequent school absences
  • Frequent complaints of physical ailments
  • Physical slowness or agitation
  • Repetitive or excessive behaviors
  • Sudden weight loss/gain or a change in appetite
  • Loss of interest in loved ones, friends, and activities formerly enjoyed
  • Trouble in relationships or behavioral issues at school
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Lethargy, poor concentration, or inability to make decisions
  • Use of drugs or alcohol and other risk-taking behaviors
  • Decreased attention to appearance or personal hygiene
  • Evidence of self-harm (cutting, burning, excessive tattoos or piercings)
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Evidence of suicidal ideology
  • Violence or running away from home

These are certainly not the only signs of depression, and it’s important to note that feelings of shame may cause teens to work hard to hide what they’re experiencing. In addition, many teens don’t yet know how to express or process what they’re feeling, which can make the parent’s job even harder.

You’ll need to keep the lines of communication as open as possible so that you’re in a good position to recognize if and when your child needs professional help.

How depression is treated

If left untreated, depression can be extremely detrimental or even life threatening. While you don’t need to jump to conclusions and interpret every bout of sadness or frustration as an indicator of depression, it’s also essential that you talk openly about the prioritization of mental health within your family. By removing the stigma from these conditions, you may be able to make a huge difference in your teen’s well-being.

Keep in mind that there are several different types of depression that might be impacting your teen and that there is no cure for depression. Depression can, however, be treated successfully in the vast majority of patients. There is no one course of treatment that works for every single person, because it’s not a one-size-fits-all disease. Many people find success through a combination of treatment methods, like therapy and medication.

Finding the ideal course of treatment for your child takes time. But it typically starts with some form of professional counseling. There are private therapists and teen depression treatment centers that specialize in providing the kind of help your child requires and the guidance your family needs. Because most teens will not seek out help on their own, parents and friends play a vital role in facilitating treatment and subsequent recovery.

Depression does not always present the same way from one teen to another. Each teen’s course of treatment will probably differ, as well. The best thing you can do as a parent is to take an active interest in your teen’s life and pay attention to potential cries for help. Although all parents hope their children never have to experience mental health conditions, it’s crucial for teens to know that they can go to their parents if they need help.

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