When adolescents become emotional, short-tempered and want to spend time alone, parents often chalk it up to typical teen moodiness.
Moodiness may be to blame for behavior changes in teens, but the culprit could be something more serious, like depression, Marshfield Clinic child psychologist Dr. Stephanie Kohlbeck said.
“More teens are being diagnosed with depression,” she said. “We may be becoming more aware of it, or it could be because teens have more pressure to deal with from school, sports, family and social media. It’s hard to tell.”
Because teen depression differs in some ways from adult depression, it may be hard for adults to recognize.
The main thing to look for is a change in performance in school, at home or socially.
Signs of teen depression
Actions speak louder than words when it comes to teen depression.
“Grown-ups are more likely to be able to express feelings better than teens,” Kohlbeck said. “They may be more psychologically-minded or have a better vocabulary to describe it.”
Some common signs of depression in adults, like sadness and isolation, aren’t always present in teens. Instead, watch for these symptoms:
- Changes in relationships. Teens may withdraw from some people but not others, or start spending time with a different group of friends.
- Boredom. Teens may not know how to express feeling sad or down, so they will say they’re bored.
- Decline in grades.
- Change in sleeping habits. Odd sleeping hours are normal for teens, but sleeping more than usual or not being able to get to sleep may be signs of depression.
- Running away.
- High-risk behaviors. Depressed teens are more likely to act out through unhealthy behaviors like reckless driving, drinking and unsafe sex.
But some signs of depression often seen in adults also are common in teens. They include:
- Weight or appetite changes.
- Difficulty concentrating or forgetfulness.
- Little interest in activities they once enjoyed.
- Talking about suicide.
What to do about teen depression
If you’re not sure if your teen’s behavior changes are caused by depression, moodiness or something else, try talking to him or her, Kohlbeck said.
“Just getting them talking is a good place to start,” she said. “Listen, don’t lecture.”
Some teens will open up about their feelings if parents mention the teen hasn’t been himself or herself lately. Others aren’t willing to talk or don’t have the vocabulary to express their feelings, she said.
Ask your teen’s friends if they have noticed any changes in his or her behavior. Teens are more likely to talk to their friends than their parents.
Do not hesitate to make an appointment with a mental health care provider if your teen is showing signs of depression. It’s best to be proactive, as mental illness is as serious as diseases that show more physical symptoms.