All teens have rough days--moments when they shut themselves off in their
room, seem sad or lonely, or are uncommunicative with family members.
But for more and more American teens, these days aren't isolated incidents--they're
signs of depression.
In fact, teen depression is more common than you may think. During 2016,
2.7 million teens--about one out of every nine American adolescents--dealt
with major depression. And that number is growing--according to a report
from the government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,
the national rate of teen depression is 11 percent, up from 9.9 percent
"It's important for parents to know the difference between a bad
day and major depression," says
Mission Heritage Medical Group physician
Justine Bello, MD, board-certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine.
"Teens can get in a fight with a friend or do poorly on a test, and
they may be upset about it for a day or two. But generally, a major depressive
episode is diagnosed when symptoms last more than two weeks. Because teen
depression can lead to poor grades or drug and alcohol use, parents should
pay attention to their teens' lives so they can recognize when a behavior
is a signal of profound depression." Among the symptoms to look for:
- Outbursts of anger or irritability
- Complaints of ailments such as headaches or stomach pain
- Sensitivity to criticism
- Withdrawing from family and friends, or dropping out of activities
- Lack of focus or the ability to solve problems
- Problems sleeping and extreme daytime fatigue
- Changes in eating habits
- A drop in grades and loss of interest in schoolwork
- Drug or alcohol use
"These symptoms can be precipitated by a traumatic event, such as
divorce or death in the family, a break-up or problems in school,"
Dr. Bello says. "There is also a higher risk of depressive episodes
for teens who have a family history of depression, are struggling with
chronic illness or learning disabilities or lack necessary social skills.
And girls have double the risk of depression compared to boys. Also, teens
today have a lot of stress, and if they don't have ways to cope with
it, that can be taxing for them, too."
Parents can play a crucial role in getting their teens the mental health
support they need. Dr. Bello recommends that they:
Communicate openly and honestly. "Create a safe space for teens to feel comfortable talking, and
ask them what they are feeling and how long they've been struggling
with those feelings; perhaps ask if they want to talk to another adult,
too, such as a counselor," Dr. Bello says. "It's important
for parents to truly listen to what their teens say."
Get medical help. "If the family doctor or pediatrician has expertise in treating
depression, schedule an appointment, or ask for a referral if a specialist
is needed," says Dr. Bello. "The doctor will probably do an
exam to make sure there aren't any physical causes at the root of
the problem, and will talk with the teen to evaluate the symptoms."
There are also programs specially designed to help teens, such as the
Center for Adolescent Mental Health and Family Wellness at Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach. This hospital-based treatment program
helps teenagers facing myriad issues, including depression.
Take immediate action if there is a possibility of suicide. "If teens mention suicidal thoughts, or they seem to be growing
increasingly distant by saying 'goodbye' to family and friends,
giving away personal possessions or taking extreme actions that put their
lives in danger, don't hesitate to get help," Dr. Bello says.
Parents can either contact the doctor or call the National Suicide Prevention
Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
Eliminate undue stress. "Teens have so many responsibilities with school and part-time jobs,
extracurricular commitments and preparing for college that it can all
be too much," Dr. Bello says. "Take a good look at what's
important and what can be dropped from a busy schedule." For more
tips on helping teens lead balanced lives, click
Let teens know it's not their fault. "Unconditional love and support are a balm for teens at this time,"
says Dr. Bello. "They should be reassured not only that they are
loved, but that depression is not their fault and it can be treated."
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.