A Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) have released results showing that one in five teens attempt suicide in South Africa. South Africa was once again shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of a young life when a 16-year-old boy, from Bryanston High School, was found hanging from a tree at St Stithians College on the 16th of May this year.

Do you ever wonder whether you’re irritable or unhappy teen might actually be experiencing teen depression? Most teens feel unhappy at times, and when you add hormone havoc to the many other changes happening in a teens life, it’s easy to see why their moods swing like a pendulum.

Occasional bad moods and acting out is to be expected but depression is something else. This can destroy the very essence of a teenager’s personality, causing an overwhelming sense of sadness, despair or anger. This is a serious problem that can impact every aspect of a teen’s life. Teen depression can lead to alcohol abuse, self-loathing and mutilation, pregnancy, violence and even suicide.

Unlike adults, who have the ability to seek assistance on their own, teenagers must rely on parents or caregivers to recognize their suffering and get them the treatment they need. So, if you have an adolescent in your house, it’s important to know what teen depression looks like and what to do if you spot the warning signs.

Warning signs and symptoms of depression in teens
  • Sadness or hopelessness.
  • Irritability, anger or hostility.
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family.
  • Loss of interest in activities.
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Agitation.
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt.
  • Fatigue.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Thoughts of death and suicide.
If you are unsure if the teen in your life is depressed or just “being a teenager”, consider how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how different your teen is acting from his or her usual self. Dramatic, long lasting changes in personality, mood or behaviour are red flags. Parenting tips for talking to a depressed teen
  • Offer support. Let him or her know that you are there for them unconditionally. Make it clear that you are ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.
  • Be gentle but persistent. Don’t give up if you are being shut out. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.
  • Listen without lecturing. Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgement once your teen begins to open up. The important thing is that your child is communicating.
  • Validate feelings. Don’t try to talk your teen out of his or her depression, acknowledge the pain and sadness. Let him or her know that you are taking their emotions seriously.
Treatment for teen depression

If you see the warning signs, don’t wait and hope that the symptoms will go away. Make an appointment with your family physician for a depression screening. Your physician will give your teen a full medical exam and take blood samples to check for underlying health problems which may be the cause of your child’s depression. Ask your doctor to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist specializing in adolescents. Always get your child’s input. If he or she is not “connecting” to the psychologist or psychiatrist, ask for a referral that may be better suited to your child.

There are a variety of methods used to treat depression, including medication and psychotherapy. Family therapy may be helpful if family conflict is contributing to the depression. Occasionally hospitalisation in a psychiatric unit may be required for teens with severe depression. The use of anti-depressants in younger patients requires close monitoring and follow-up by the treating doctor. Your mental health care provider will determine the best course of treatment for your teen.

The road to your depressed teen’s recovery may be bumpy, so be patient. Rejoice in the small victories and prepare for the occasional setbacks. Never compare your family to others. As long as you’re doing your best to get your teen the necessary help, you’re doing your job.

See more healthy living tips at the Fedhealthy blog.
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24