The teen years are notoriously challenging. If you are a parent or guardian working through the seemingly endless drama — and the emotional highs and lows — you know that it’s difficult at best. It’s natural to feel unprepared to navigate the murky waters of teen years. That pleasant child who once looked at you like you hung the moon now seems unable to utter but a few snarky words at the dinner table.
You’ve noticed that your teen seems a little anxious, and your mind immediately goes to depression. How do you help when you can’t seem to get him to talk with you? Being there is a great first start, say the caring providers at Generations Family Practice in Cary, North Carolina. In this blog, we’ll discuss the symptoms of depression, and more importantly, how to help your adolescent recover.
The teen brain and depression
A great place to start this conversation is to take a deep dive into why all that teen angst is happening in the first place and how it plays a role in teen depression. In addition to the physical growth spurts and hormonal changes, as adolescents enter puberty they are undergoing equally dramatic transformations in their brain.
Specifically, some parts of the brain develop quicker than others, but the human brain doesn’t fully develop until we reach about age 25. The way it works is brain development starts from the back portion of the brain and eventually works its way to the frontal lobes, which houses executive cognitive functions like judgment, problem solving, reasoning, and the ability to control emotions.
Remarkably the teen brain is neurologically wired to first generate emotions without impulse control, and doesn’t gain the ability to control emotions and potentially risky behavior until the frontal lobes more fully develop. According to research, this disparity in brain development basically enables teens to express a wide range of dramatic emotions without the ability to manage them, making them more vulnerable to developing anxiety disorders and depression.
Look for depression warning signs
At first blush you may think that if a lot of what’s going on with your teen is a result of biology and brain development, how can you tell if something more serious like depression or an anxiety disorder is happening? Trust that you are the best expert on your teen and look for key warning signs of depression and understand that depression manifests differently in teens than it does in adults.
A physician diagnosing a teen with major depressive disorder looks beyond a lack of interest in things that once gave them joy or even their depressed mood. Some telltale signs of teen depression include:
- A lapse in academic performance
- Too little or too much sleep
- Problems concentrating
- Uncharacteristic emotional outbursts
- Withdrawing from friends or social situations
- Expresses thoughts of suicide
Be your teen’s best mental health advocate by keeping a look out for one or more of these common symptoms.
Listen more, talk less
Parenting is probably the most rewarding and challenging experience you’ll ever take on in your life. While there are plenty of self-help books about parenting, the cliff notes remain the same — children thrive in environments with structure, stability, routine, and especially with the loving support of trusted adults.
Simply be there for your teen while struggling with depression, and do more listening than talking. Knowing that you are and always will be there for them no matter what will go a long way as they battle depression.
Don’t wait it out
Another important thing you can do to help your teen navigate depression is not to wait it out. As hard as it may be to acknowledge that your teen may have a mental disorder, resist the temptation to take a wait-and-see attitude. If one or more symptoms persist for two weeks or so, contact your physician or mental health provider for an evaluation. Getting an early diagnosis typically opens up the treatment options and gets your teen back to feeling more like themselves again.
The serious, sometimes life-threatening implications of not getting depression checked out and allowing the condition to worsen is too great. This is particularly true if your teen has expressed thoughts of suicide. Sadly, suicide ranks as one of the leading causes of death among American adolescents ages 10 to 14 years old. Fortunately only a fraction of the teens that contemplate suicide act on it.
If your teen is in crisis, contact your local suicide hotline. If it’s not a crisis situation, but you’ve noticed that your teen is struggling, play it safe and contact us at Generations Family Practice. We’ll conduct a physical exam and review your teen’s medical history as well as family medical history. Book an appointment online or call us at 919-852-3999 today.