Depression is a serious mental health problem that doesn’t just affect adults. It also affects children and young people. The condition typically causes a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood, and a disinterest in activities that used to be enjoyable. Teenage depression influences how a child feels, thinks, and behaves, and it can lead to a number of emotional, functional, and physical problems. If left untreated, teenage depression may turn into a long-term problem.
What Causes Teenage Depression?
The teenage years are a unique and formative period that involve multiple physical, emotional, and social changes. It can bring many highs and lows during this stage of development as your child copes with things such as body changes and developing a sense of independence and identity. It is normal for your teen to feel sad, irritable, tired, and demotivated at times, but with depression, these feelings are more persistent and may interfere with daily life.
Although it is not always clear what causes depression, there are several factors that may contribute to the development of depression including abnormal levels of certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, and a family history of depression or other mental health conditions. Anxious teens, those with low self-esteem or a negative attitude, and teens with a poor support system in place may also be more likely to develop depression.
Depression may be triggered by one particular life event such as a bereavement or it may result from other issues, such as:
- Peer pressure
- Academic expectations
- Difficulties at home
- Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- Substance abuse
- A medical condition
- Vitamin deficiency
- A side effect of some medications
Most often, a combination of factors lead to depression.
Symptoms of Teenage Depression
It can be difficult to tell the difference between your teen experiencing normal ups and downs or whether they have signs of depression. If you are concerned, talk with your teen and try to determine whether they are able to manage challenging feelings, or if they are finding life overwhelming and difficult to cope with. Depending on the cause and type of depression, symptoms can vary in severity, from mild to debilitating symptoms or suicidal feelings. If your teen has depression, you may notice changes in their emotions and behavior, which may include:
- A change in their attitude and behavior that may lead to problems at school, home, in social activities, or in other areas of life.
- Persistent feelings of sadness, which could include episodes of crying for no apparent reason
- Becoming increasingly withdrawn
- More irritable or easily annoyed
- Frustration or anger, even over minor matters
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling hopeless or empty
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Loss of pleasure/interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Increase in conflict with family or peers
- Overly sensitive
- Persistently self-critical
- Needing excessive reassurance
- More agitated or restless behavior, such as pacing, hand-wringing, or an inability to sit still
- Problems with concentrating, thinking, making decisions, and remembering things
- Frequent thoughts of death or dying
- Thinking or talking about suicide, making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt
- Being more tired and lacking energy
- Slowed thinking, speaking, or moving
- Sleep issues
- Changes in appetite and eating habits (resulting in weight loss or weight gain)
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Frequent unexplained body aches/headaches and visiting the school nurse
- Becoming increasingly socially isolated
- Poor school performance and/or frequent school absences
- Taking less care of appearance or personal hygiene
- Risk-taking behavior
- Self-harm, such as cutting or burning
Symptoms of depression don’t tend to get better on their own, and they may get worse over time or lead to other problems if left untreated.
When To Seek Help
Teenage depression isn’t a sign of weakness or something that can be overcome with willpower, it can have serious consequences and may require long-term treatment. If you are concerned about your teen or suspect that they may have depression, speak to their pediatrician for advice. It is important to get help early, as the longer it goes on, the more likely it is to cause emotional, functional, and physical problems.
Depression is a very treatable condition, and for most teens, symptoms will ease with treatment such as medication and psychological counseling.
Teenage Mental Health Services in St. Petersburg/Tampa, Florida
If you suspect your teen has depression, don’t delay. Contact the Children’s Medical Center for the caring and compassionate care you and your child deserve. Our experienced developmental pediatricians provide comprehensive support for patients from birth to 18 years of age. Our experienced, board-certified physicians can provide early diagnosis, education, and resources to help young patients, their families, as well as those involved in their care manage their mental health disorders successfully.
To find out more about our pediatric mental health services, contact us at one of our four convenient office locations in Palm Harbor, Trinity, Westchase, and Lutz. You can also schedule a consultation with one of our doctors using our convenient online request form.