Your teen is being really irritable. Is it a random bad mood — or something more?
Most teens bounce back quickly from a few days of moodiness. But those who feel sad, hopeless or irritable for weeks, months or longer are likely to be depressed.
“Teens with depression are at higher risk for school problems, peer and family conflict, substance abuse, self-injury and suicide,” says psychiatrist . “But evidence shows that early detection and treatment of depression can help prevent or minimize its debilitating effects.”
A bona fide illness depressed teen — and their parents — often feel like they’re the only ones dealing with this problem. Yet in 2014, 2.8 million U.S. adolescents aged 12 to 17 suffered major depression, according to the National Institute on Mental Health. And that number is probably low.
Of greater concern: On average, one in five high school students seriously consider suicide
The NIMH considers depression a treatable brain illness. “An ever-growing body of literature supports the neurobiology of depression,” says Dr. Austerman. “Genetic factors and social experiences can alter the brain’s neurotransmitters, neuroplasticity and neural networks, and disrupt hormone regulation.”
7 things you can do
Meanwhile, parents can take these steps to help a depressed teen:
- Keep it real. Tell teens they’re grappling with a real illness and that they can learn to manage it.
- Encourage patience. Remind teens to be good to themselves and patient with treatment, which can take time.
- Applaud good habits. Daily exercise (even walking), going to bed on time, enjoying sunshine and nature, and making healthy food choices help to counter depression.
- Encourage openness. “Give teens the space to express their feelings honestly, without judgment. If you disagree with their decisions or actions you can say, “I do not like that action but I love you, and we’ll work on this together,’” says Dr. Austerman.
- Get family support. Schedule time with a supportive aunt, uncle or grandparent, especially one who makes your teen laugh.
- Encourage activities. Make it easy for your teen to socialize and do activities with friends.
- Address friendships. Remind teens that trustworthy friends will always be there for them and untrustworthy friends don’t have to be part of their lives. Let them know relationship problems won’t last forever. “Explain that friends are friends, with their own struggles. They can be supportive but don’t have effective tools to help you through depression,’” says