Teenage depression can have very different signs than adult depression, and parents should be aware of the major symptoms of this condition. However, one symptom alone doesn’t indicate a depressive illness. Parents and other caregivers should instead look for several pictures of the puzzle that may fit together and suggest teenage depression. Generally the only symptom that can alone be an indication of this condition is if a teen expresses suicidality or claims to want to die; this should be taken very seriously and these kids should get help right away from a psychiatrist or therapist.
One of the major differences between teenage depression and depression in adults is that teens may actually spend more time with peer groups. Adults have a tendency to withdraw from friendships, but teens may rely on their friendships because adults can’t “possibly understand” their depth of pain and discomfort. So one thing to observe is a desire to avoid adults while remaining close with peers.
Teens do withdraw from some activities. They might give up a favorite sport, stop playing an instrument, or forgo participation in various clubs. Their reasons for this may not be particularly cohesive, but they might express lack of interest in an activity they once found enjoyable.
Another indicator is sleep disturbance. Teens may not sleep well until late at night, and might sleep much of the day. Depression in adults is more commonly associated with insomnia than is teenage depression.
In many teens, the greatest symptoms of depression manifest as irritability or anger, instead of tearfulness or sadness. Teens might fight more with parents, say more unkind things, or just generally seem to be angry and ready to battle at a moment’s notice. Other potential indicators of teenage depression are poor or changed eating habits, unexplained physical symptoms like frequent headaches, drug and alcohol abuse, and poor performance in school.
One key difference between teenage depression and adult depressive illness is that treatment may have to be observed more carefully. Teens and young adults are at much greater risk for developing suicidality when taking most antidepressants. Virtually all of the common ones now have warnings specific to teen and young adult users that recommend watching for signs of increased irritation or suicidal thoughts.
Though these symptoms might develop right after a medication regimen begins, they can develop at a later point. This means that regular counseling and regular oversight of medications is extremely important. It is very valuable for adults too, to work with a therapist while getting medication support, but it is less likely that older adults will develop these symptoms from taking antidepressants, though all depression has risk of suicide.
It is very important that parents not get too worried if they see a single sign that could indicate teenage depression. Dropping out of sport for instance, or changed sleeping habits alone don’t mean that a teen or young adult is deeply depressed. Teenagers could go through lots of changes, many of them hormonal, as they continue to develop, and parents can expect to observe these. Yet when parents or caretakers notice a constellation of symptoms beginning to emerge, it’s a good idea to get a depression evaluation to determine if treatment is necessary.