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More than Moody – Understanding Adolescent Depression


The teenage years are no picnic for both the teenager and the parents. Parents of young children yearn for these days, which they assume will be carefree child-rearing, but are rudely introduced to a challenging parental time. Teenagers assume they are halfway onto adulthood and expect adolescents to be time of freedom but soon find it instead to be a time filled with of a lot of demands and responsibility. Teenagers are bombarded with pressures from many different sources. Between school, family, friends, and even from within, the pressure is constantly building up in a teenager. Wanting to look one’s best, reflect well on one’s family, get good grades, and be a loyal friend are but a few of the pressures that teenagers face. Sometimes such pressures can be too much for a teenager to handle. When this happens, it can lead to depression.

About 20 percent of teens will experience teen depression before they reach adulthood. Depression can affect a teen regardless of gender, social background, income level, race, or school. While teenage girls report suffering from depression more often than boys, boys are less likely to seek help or recognize that they are suffering from depression.

When a teenager is depressed, common symptoms like anger, irritability, and moodiness are often downplayed. Parents are in denial that something is actually wrong, and may attribute long lasting unhappiness to being a “typical teenager.” It can be very hard for a parent to believe that their child is depressed. If you begin to notice a pattern about your teen’s behavior, don’t be quick to dismiss it. If something “doesn’t feel right,” go with your instincts and deal with it. Try to figure out how long it’s been going on, how extreme it is, and admit the possibility that your teen is depressed.

Warning Signs · Trouble with school and concentration. Depressed teens often find it difficult to concentrate on schoolwork or stay interested in hobbies they once enjoyed. Depressed teens don’t “care” anymore; therefore, it is not uncommon for a depressed, formerly good student to get into trouble, skip classes, or let grades slip.

· Isolation or changes in relationships. Making friends and keeping them takes effort. In an attempt to reduce the demands and pressures upon them, depressed teens will begin to spend more time alone, keep fewer relationships, and pull away from their families.

· Unexplained illnesses. Emotional pain can wreak havoc on the body, especially when it is unexpressed. Depressed teens complain of headaches, stomachaches, and menstrual pain. When a physical exam from your child’s doctor doesn’t reveal a medical problem, don’t overlook the possibility that their unexplained symptoms may be a cry for help with their depression.

· Extreme habit changes. Depression may lead to dramatic changes in everyday activities. A depressed teen might sleep all day or not at all, eat excessively or stop eating entirely, or spend endless hours watching TV or playing games on the internet. Lifestyle changes are not unusual in an adolescent, but when they are drastic, they can also signal something much larger.

· Substance Use – The use of drugs and alcohol is often the result of adolescent experimentation, but substance abuse can also be a sign that your child is depressed or unhappy and using substances as means of self-medicating. When the depression is left untreated, the substance abuse can escalate into an addiction and become a problem in its own right.

Just because teenagers spend most of their day at school and with friends, that doesn’t mean that parents can’t have a major impact on their psyche. Those few hours with the people who love them most can make all the difference.

· Treat the problem – not the symptom. For a depressed teen, being disrespectful and acting out are symptoms of feeling out of balance and unhappy inside. These teens are extra sensitive to parental reactions. When parents react with harsh lectures, yelling, expressions of disappointment, and aggravation, it makes depressed teenagers feel like a failure and often even more depressed. While a parent should never condone negative behavior, it is important to keep in mind that the behavior itself is only half the story.

· Communicate without judgment. Your teen needs someone she trusts more than ever. Most depressed teens feel completely alone and are embarrassed by what they are feeling, so build them up and let them know you are there for them. Oftentimes, teens don’t try to communicate and connect because they are afraid they will have trouble explaining what they are feeling and get flustered. Encourage your child to talk to you. If he’s willing to talk, try your best to listen in a non-judgmental manner that conveys understanding and empathy. You can also encourage your teen to write in a journal. Writing can be extremely therapeutic. It is an opportunity to sort out feelings without the worry of being judged.

About the Author: Evan Kroll, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in Teaneck, New Jersey. He specializes in therapy for teens, young adults, and families. Dr. Kroll is a certified Marijuana and Alcohol Treatment Specialist. He consults to yeshivas, schools, and camps about teen's at-risk, substance use and behavior disorders. He lectures in a wide range of settings about psychology in the schools, parenting, and social development. To contact Dr. Kroll, please call 201-357-2825 or visit www.evankroll.com.


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