Is your teenager depressed?
Do you know the signs to look for?
What’s going on with your teenager? Is it just the ups and downs of adolescence, or is it something more? In Dr. Gregg Jantz’s new book, (When Your Teenager Becomes) The Stranger in Your House, parents will learn to distinguish between normal adolescent behavior and clinical depression.
The excerpts below from The Stranger House (© David C Cook) explain what to expect as regular teen behavior and what to be on the lookout for.
What to Expect:
I think the nearest comparison I could give to what I remember about being a teen and what I hear from teenagers about adolescence is that of a reptile shedding its skin. When a snake or a lizard sheds its skin, the new growing skin cells separate from the old established skin cells, causing a marked change in appearance and producing an irritability that can result in increased snapping and hissing. Of course, reptiles shed their skin relatively quickly, so the analogy doesn’t carry too far. Still, I think it’s fairly parallel. Your teenager’s nascent adult is separating from the confinement of childhood, causing a marked change in appearance and producing an irritability that can result in increased snapping and hissing. I think it’s why teens often feel like their skin is crawling and fight against a sensation of being confined, wanting to burst free. And it’s why parents often look at their teens as though they’re something that just crawled out from under a rock.
Shedding skin is uncomfortable, often disturbing, and absolutely necessary for growth—and it’s the same with adolescence. It makes it easier, however, when you know what to look for and what it all means. Teenager adolescent behaviors are stereotypical for a reason—they are fairly consistent across generations. If you haven’t noticed many of these already, you will, in varying degrees, depending upon your teen.
- Moody and irritable
- Collectively independent
- Exclusively inclusive
- Physically awkward
What to look out for:
As we’ve seen in previous chapters, dealing with a teenager can be a dicey proposition in the best of times. On any roller coaster, part of the ride is taking that occasional plunge, but what happens when the drop becomes too steep or the ride veers off track? As a parent, your tolerance for a rough ride may be different from your teen’s. So how do you know if your teen is having a bad day or a bad week or something more? How do you know if the withdrawal and slump in grades are normal or something to worry about? How do you know if it’s just teen angst or something worse? How do you know if your teen is just unhappy because of a breakup or doing poorly on a test or if this unhappiness has spread to life in general?
How do you know what you’re dealing with when your teen has become adept at avoidance? He’s quite capable of figuring out and telling you what you want to hear so you and your disquiet will quietly go away. She has the ability to block any genuine concern with a concussive and shrill blast of anger. Getting to the bottom of a problem you merely suspect and your teen barely understands is like catching smoke and trying to examine it in your hand. As tempting as it may be to give up the whole proposition of trying to catch smoke in the first place, there is the unsettling reality that where there’s smoke, there is often fire. This fire has a name: It’s called depression.
Kids get depressed, just like adults. It’s something, as a parent, you need to be aware of and look out for. A depressed teen does not have the wherewithal, generally, to come to you for help, especially when one of the symptoms is isolation. If you’re waiting for your teen to come to you, you’re going to be waiting a long time, maybe too long. So you need to be proactive. Know the signs. Even though all kids are different, there are some specific things to look for, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center (that’s quite a mouthful, but, luckily, the website is a bit shorter—SafeYouth.gov). No one of these signs is a definitive red flag that says, “Yes, your teen is depressed.” Rather, they form a pattern of concern. They should catch your attention and slow you down long enough to investigate the source of the smoke, even if you have trouble catching it in your hand.
So what are these red flags that parents need to watch for, if they are wondering if their teen is teetering on the edge of something more serious than teenage angst? I have listed them below, and following the list is a more detailed explanation of each:
- Negative feelings or behaviors lasting more than two weeks
- Loss of enjoyment in established activities
- Restlessness, fatigue, or a lack of motivation in school
- Marked increase in irritability or impatience
- Feelings of being weighed down
- Loss of physical and emotional energy
- Marked changes in appetite or weight
- Lapse in personal hygiene.
- Social isolation from family or friends
- Taking up with a new set of friends
- Impulsive thinking or rash judgments
- Inability to make decisions, concentrate, or focus
- Marked increase in frustration or anger
- Feelings of sadness and worthlessness
- Expressing feelings of stress and inability to cope
- Ongoing complaints of headaches, stomachaches, bodyaches
- Marked change in sleep patterns
- Avoidance of added privileges
(Further explanations of each item from both lists are included in the book.)
About the author: Dr. Gregg Jantz is the best-selling author of numerous books, including Hope, Help, and Healing for Eating Disorders. He is the founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, a leading healthcare facility near Seattle that specializes in whole-person care.