Teen Depression & Anxiety – What Can Parents Do to Help?

Adolescent depression and anxiety – causes and symptoms – how can parents/guardians help? Are antidepressants the only answer?

Teen Depression & Anxiety – What Can Parents Do to Help?

The medical explanation of depression as a Mayo Clinic staff puts it, “is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.”

This is not only true for adults, who are, more often than not, victims of work-related depression, but it is observed that more and more teens are becoming sufferers of depression and mood swings, which are sometimes misinterpreted as bad behaviour, hanging out with the wrong kind of friends, and many other irrational causes that parents characteristically attribute such behaviour to.

Parents have a tendency to brush it off as a passing phase which they feel would correct itself given some time and space; they fail to realize that it could lead to serious, and sometimes, fatal repercussions like suicidal tendencies.

The purpose of this article is not to get into medical intricacies like chemical changes in the brain, or to provide deep psychological insight into its root causes with unpronounceable medical nomenclature – let’s leave that to the qualified and trained experts in the field.

The intention is, basically, to give the reader, be it a parent, guardian or the teenaged victim, an idea of how to identify the initial signs and seek expert advice before it becomes too complicated and develops a kind of permanence and lifetime medical dependency. Now, who would want that?

Photo Credit: moProphet
Photo Credit: moProphet

The symptoms or signs that an adolescent is in a state of depression may not be exactly the same with each individual – it may vary in severity and nature from person to person. While some may become silent and reclusive, others may display abnormal aggression in addition to a number of telltale signs.

Some of the signs that may signal the onset of depression, or for that matter anxiety without a plausible cause, can be emotional or behavioral changes in adolescents that parents or guardians should always be alert to, and take necessary steps to correct them before it’s too late and leads to serious complications.

Symptoms: Some of the common emotional and behavioral changes that are indicative of depression and anxiety among adolescents are:

* Feelings of pensiveness, sadness, and hopelessness including crying spells without any apparent reason or cause.

* Difficulty in thinking, concentrating, decision-making, and even remembering things.

* Declining grades, poor school performance, and frequent complaints from schools and teachers about attentiveness in class.

* Irritability, anger, hostility towards parents, siblings and even strangers over trivial matters.

* Restlessness and agitation – unnecessary pacing, hand-wringing, inability to sit still in one place, perpetual frowning, etc.

* Low self-esteem, feeling of worthlessness and guilt for no particular reason, lack of enthusiasm and motivation.

* Negative feelings about life and the future.

* Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities.

* Constant pondering over past failures and indiscretions.

* Exaggerated self-blame and self-criticism.

* Fatigue and lack of energy.

* Oversleeping or insomnia – irregular sleep pattern.

* Loss of appetite and weight, or alternatively, increased cravings for particular kinds or food and unexplained weight gain and obesity.

* Alcohol or drug induced depression.

* Frequent body aches, headaches and other ailments.

* Avoiding people and company – social isolation.

* Not caring too much about self-appearance which is pretty abnormal among teenagers.

* Deliberately inflicting non-fatal injuries to oneself like cutting, burning, and excessive piercing and tattooing.

* Suicidal tendencies – not necessarily committing the act but thinking more and more about it and even making plans for an easy way out. If left untreated it can lead to actual act itself.

Causes of depression and anxiety: One can’t pinpoint the exact cause for depression. It can be the result of a single cause or a combination of the following situations – again the attempt is to give simple explanations of the causes rather than medical details and terminologies which should be left to the experts like psychiatrists, psychologists, and similar therapists.

* Inherited traits – It is not uncommon for depression to be an inherited affliction, a genetic thing – in fact, more often than not, it comes from a history of depression in the family and blood relatives.

* Hormones – Hormonal changes in the body can trigger depression and anxiety and psychological changes.

* Early childhood trauma – Childhood trauma and events can lead to depression during teenage – for example, physical, sexual or emotional abuse by parents, relatives and even neighbors, or it could be the loss of a parent early in life.

* Physical disability – Some teenagers who are counseled well and receive love and attention from near and dear ones may cope well with their disability, while others may fall victim to severe depression as a consequence.

* Sexual orientation like being gay, bisexual, transgender in a society which looks down upon these realities may lead to severe depression – the sense of not being normal, and hence, not being accepted.

Suicidal Signals: Certain suicide warnings to be watched for are:

* Writing about the idea of suicide – like stories, poems, or diaries about death, suicide etc.

* Talking or joking often about committing suicide and the thrill of the unknown.

* Losing interest in prized possessions and giving them away.

* Reckless behavior, like taking undue risks in sports and other activities and incurring frequent injuries as a result.

* Saying goodbye to family and friends as if it’s going to be their last meeting.

* Romanticizing death by speaking positively about the experience of dying.

While all of the suicidal signals discussed may not actually lead to suicide but the risk factor cannot be ignored or taken lightly.

Complications: If left untreated teen depression can lead to the following risk factors – some of the complications listed below have been mentioned above as potential causes as well. However, depression from other causes mentioned can also lead to these risk factors causing deeper depression and even death.

Young Girl Doing Drugs at a Party
Young Girl Doing Drugs at a Party

* Alcohol and drug abuse.

* Family conflicts with parents, siblings, other relatives and even neighbors and strangers.

* Academic issues while being the potential cause for depression, can also be the result of it.

* Lawlessness – teenage depression can result in involvement with the juvenile justice system.

* Suicide – thoughts of suicide, planning and maybe even the actual execution of the suicidal plans

Treatment of Depression & Anxiety: Please do not ever administer drugs or medications on the recommendations of other parents or guardians who have faced similar teenage depression issues. Every case is different from the other.

There are experts and specialists out there who have spent money and time learning about such issues and hold proper degrees and are licensed to treat such cases of teenage depression and adolescent anxiety.

One last piece of advice – along with proper treatment by consulting a specialist in the field, lots of love, caring and attention will work wonders for the depressed teenager.

Be alert! Be safe! Seek professional help!

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