Teenage angst can only go on for so long. For many parents, it’s difficult to figure out whether your teen’s behavior is due to something much more serious and long-term — like depression. Recognizing signs of depression in teens can be hard, but they may be more noticeable than you think.
1. Drop in School Performance
If your teen is usually the type to excel in academics and is suddenly getting several letter grades below their usual, or getting calls home, it’s time for a conversation.
Depression can generate apathy for teens, causing them to lose interest in aspects of their daily routine, including school. However, do be wary of other possible causes behind the drop in school performance, like an undiagnosed learning disability or a bullying issue at school. Or, school itself can be the cause of teen depression.
2. Withdrawing from Activities or Hobbies
Extracurriculars and hobbies can take up a large chunk of a teen’s daily routine. If your teen has time commitments for activities they normally enjoy, but they begin to ignore or miss attending them, it can be a sign of depression. Try reaching out to see why they no longer want to participate, whether it be because they want to try something new or that they are suffering from depression.
3. Significant Weight Gain or Loss
When a teen is depressed, they may take to extreme eating habits as a way of coping. This can be eating an excessive amount of food or just not eating at all. Rather than jump to conclusions or make it an issue about weight, approach them gently about the change — it may be linked to depression or an eating disorder.
An eating disorder is tied to a larger emotional or stress-related issue, whether it be a current stressor in their life or a significant past event. Teens who are experiencing anxiety or depression are more likely to develop eating disorders.
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4. Changes in Sleep Patterns
Your child’s sleep pattern can get pretty erratic as they grow older. Whether it be them spending more time on their devices into the late hours of the night or stressing over a growing pile of schoolwork, sleep patterns are bound to change.
However, if they are spending excessive amounts of time sleeping — regularly sleeping hours into the afternoon or having their night and day reversed — it should be a cause for concern.
5. Displaying Reckless Behavior
You know how your teen usually behaves, so if they are suddenly sneaking out in the middle of the night, “borrowing” your car at random, and behaving more recklessly than usual, you should definitely be concerned. Don’t just chalk it up to the teenage rebellion talked about in movies — it could very well be a sign of depression for teens.
You may be tipped off to reckless behavior by your teen’s school if they call to inform you about several missed attendances.
6. Substance Abuse
Consuming large amounts of alcohol or drugs could be your teen trying to experiment or succumbing to peer pressure, but it can also be your teen attempting to self-medicate for their current emotional state. If you recognize signs of substance abuse in your teen, take action to get them the help they need — for the substance and for the possible mental health issues behind it.
Signs of Teen Substance Abuse
–Changes in behavior, such as being more secretive
–Poor academic performance
–Evidence of drug use: rolling papers, lighters, pipes, needles
7. Lack of Energy/Fatigue
Plenty of changes in behavior can be chalked up to a lack of energy and fatigue, which can be seen as a possible sign of depression. With depression, individuals lack the motivation or interest to get things down, from everyday tasks of cleaning up after themselves to partaking in social situations.
This could be due to an undiagnosed chronic illness or brain chemistry. Talking to your pediatrician can help.
Self-harm is a glaring sign of depression in teens. Sadly, self-harm can be done through multiple methods (cutting, burning, starving themselves) and not always in visible ways. If you notice new or repeating injuries on your child’s body, it’s something that should be addressed promptly.
9. Neglecting Personal Hygiene
If you notice your teen has been skipping out on their personal hygiene routine, it can be a sign of depression. This may be more noticeable in girls than boys. For example, if your teen regularly spends her morning getting ready for the day — picking an outfit, styling her hair, doing her makeup — and suddenly drops her morning routine, it is a cause for worry.
Depression can often cause individuals to shut themselves out from the outside world. Your teen may show this by refusing to spend time with the family, dropping out of extracurricular activities, and stopping their hangouts with friends. This is especially noticeable if they are typically an extrovert.
Teens overthinking about their place within their social circles may also be the reason contributing to their depression.
11. They Believe Life Is Meaningless
If your teen truly believes that there is no meaning to life, it’s time to get them some professional help. When they believe that life has no meaning, they will most likely already be displaying some of the changes in behavior described previously.
12. They Express Self-Deprecation
Depression can generate thoughts of worthlessness, which your teen may be openly expressing. They may be commenting on how ugly they think they are, or that they can never do something right. It might seem like an offhand comment or joke at the time, but if they are continuously mentioning things along this theme, it might be a good time to intervene.
Helping Your Depressed Teen
You can’t always help your teen by yourself, so seek help through health professionals. A school’s counseling center or family doctor can be a good starting place. If your teen has openly expressed suicidal thoughts, call either 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) in the US.
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