Most parents struggle to spot depression in teens

It's not always easy to spot depression in teens.
It's not always easy to spot depression in teens.

Most American parents say they might have trouble distinguishing between a teen's typical mood swings and possible signs of depression, a new survey finds.

The nationwide poll of 819 parents with at least one child in middle school, junior high or high school found that while one-third were confident they could detect depression in their children, two-thirds said certain things would make it difficult.

Dramatic changes

About 30% of parents said their child is good at hiding feelings and 40% said they struggle to differentiate between their child's normal mood swings and signs of depression, according to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at the University of Michigan.

"In many families, the preteen and teen years bring dramatic changes both in youth behaviour and in the dynamic between parents and children," poll co-director Sarah Clark explained in a university news release.

"These transitions can make it particularly challenging to get a read on children's emotional state and whether there is possible depression," she added.

"Some parents may be overestimating their ability to recognise depression in the mood and behaviour of their own child," Clark noted. "An overconfident parent may fail to pick up on the subtle signals that something is amiss."

The poll also found that one in four parents said their child knows a peer or classmate with depression, and one in 10 said their child knows a peer or classmate who died by suicide.

Rising rates of suicide

The suicide rate among US children and young adults aged 10 to 24 rose 56% between 2007 and 2017, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Our report reinforces that depression is not an abstract concept for today's teens and preteens, or their parents," Clark said.

"This level of familiarity with depression and suicide is consistent with recent statistics showing a dramatic increase in suicide among U.S. youth over the past decade. Rising rates of suicide highlight the importance of recognizing depression in youth," she said.

Potential signs of depression in children include sadness, isolation, anger, irritability and acting out.

Many parents in the survey believe schools should play a role in identifying potential depression, with 70% supporting depression screening starting in middle school.

Image credit: iStock

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