Difference Between Teen Angst, Depression
Lebanon Daily News, June 19, 2004
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I received a
phone call this week from an employer wanting to help a teen
employee who she suspected was struggling with clinical
depression and may have attempted suicide. Compounding the
teen's mental health problems were parents who appeared to lack
accurate information and understanding about this most serious
problem, teen depression.
In fairness to all parents of teenagers, how do they know the
difference between their child's normal, average mood changes
and the warning signs of depression?
Moodiness is a rite of passage into adolescent years. Fits of
anger, followed by intense jubilation, followed by the blues are
commonplace. The teen years are ones of change, growth,
conflict, burgeoning independence, remarkable maturity and
Hormones, growth spurts, or the lack of, and complex
relationships, however intense but brief, are regular staples in
the mix. Layer on top the world of expectations of teachers,
friends, parents and self and we wonder how any adolescent
manages these years without serious emotional problems.
Today, in this country, one in eight teenagers is battling
Many factors contribute to this statistic. Individual brain
chemistry plays a vital role. A family history of depression or
other mental disorders may increase the risk. Difficult life
events can easily trigger bouts of depression at this time.
Lifestyle choices, side effects from medication and even
negative thought patterns can all play a role.
The management of stress and worry are critical to a teenager's
mental health. Things go wrong, and teenagers are too young to
have developed a life perspective to help keep things in
balance. Choices about sex, friendships, alcohol and drugs,
courses and careers when coupled with uncertainties about
abilities can create intense worry. Conflicting messages from
parents, teachers, friends, society and the media can all create
To manage stress and worry, teens need to stay connected with
people in all the spheres of influence, friends, family and
school. They need to find activities they enjoy and invest time
in developing those skills. And, they need to have a plan on
where and to whom they can go when problems become too big to
Depression can be difficult to diagnose, but easy to treat.
Prompt, professional treatment is the key. Depression is serious
and, if left untreated, can worsen to the point of being
Psychotherapy, whether cognitive-behavioral (changing one's
thinking and behavior patterns) or
interpersonal (focusing on developing healthier relationships),
provides the opportunity to explore painful or troubling
problems as well as develop healthy coping skills. Medication
can provide relief from the symptoms of depression and is
frequently prescribed along with counseling.
Knowing the symptoms of depression in teenagers can keep parents
alert to the changes they see in their child.
A withdrawal from friends, family or school activities is a
clear warning sign. A new and persistent sadness coupled with
comments of hopelessness should alert parents that a depressive
change may be occurring. Teenagers are normally optimistic;
expressions of hopelessness are not normal.
A lack of energy, enthusiasm or motivation, an overreaction to
criticism, expressions of poor self-image or guilt, and feelings
of an inability to meet reasonable expectations are all possible
signs of depression. Changes in eating or sleep patterns, an
increased restlessness, agitation, or irritability, reoccurring
bouts of anger or rage, substance abuse or alcohol problems, and
thoughts or writings of suicide are all clear markers of a child
It is so easy to say, "Just snap out of it." We want them to
snap out of it because we want them well and free of problems.
Because we want only good things for our children, it is too
easy to gloss over the clues of depression.
"How are you thinking?" "What are you feeling?" "Tell me about
it," and "How can I help?" are four critical expressions of
concern all parents should be using daily to keep in touch, to
keep lines of communication open and to gauge the level of
problems and coping skills facing their child on a regular
Adults say, "Suicide is never the answer." The reality for teens
is that sometimes it appears to be the only answer. An
unattended sense of hopelessness can lead to an impulsive,
Depression is real and treatable. When in doubt about your
child, err on the side of caution. Always seek help. Your
child's life may be in the balance.
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