• Adolescent Depression

    A guide for parents and teens

    The transition from middle childhood to adolescence can be very difficult and challenging for almost all parents. Our newly fashioned teenagers can often become withdrawn from us, moody, want to sleep all day, stop sharing their day with us and argue about almost everything that can possibly be argued about. It is a trying time for teens and parents alike. It is difficult for our teens as they desperately wish to fit in with their peers, wish to be treated like adults and be allowed to do whatever they want to do, are going through all sorts of hormonal changes, and they have the pressure of starting to think about what they are going to do with the rest of their lives after school. As parents we can feel shut out of their lives and feel labelled Mr/Mrs bad guy having to continually implement boundaries and rules which can create a great deal of tension in our relationship with them.

    It is for all of these reasons that adolescent depression can often go unnoticed and put down to typical adolescent behaviour. Teenagers themselves may not know they are suffering from depression due to a lack of awareness around what adolescent depression is and how it presents itself.

    What is Adolescent Depression?

    Adolescent depression can be best described as a disorder that occurs in the teenage years involving ongoing low self-esteem, sadness, feelings of hopelessness and despair and a loss of interest in things that they would otherwise enjoy or enjoy doing.

    There are many reasons why teenagers can suffer from Depression. Some of them include:

    • Conflict at home
    • Breaking up with boy/girlfriend
    • Bullying
    • Pressure at school
    • History of physical, sexual, emotional abuse and/or neglect
    • Not feeling as though they “fit in”
    • Sexual identity issues
    • Body image issues
    • Death of a friend or family member
    • A Traumatic experience
    • Divorce
    • Illness
    • Poor social skills
    • Alcohol or drug dependence
    • Family history of Depression

    What to look for when trying to identify Depression

    Adolescents with depression usually see everything more negatively, and generally do not think that anyone else understands what they are going through or believe that anyone else can help them. This is often a main reason that adolescents will not discuss it with parents or professionals.

    Often adolescents may “act out” as a way of dealing with their depression and this can often present itself in antisocial behaviours such as:

    • Truanting
    • Risk taking behaviours
    • Drug and alcohol use
    • Drop in school grades
    • Increased argumentative behaviours and not paying attention to curfews or boundaries set by parents
    • Criminal behaviours such as spray painting (tagging), shoplifting, destruction of property
    • Increased anger at home and school that can result in damage.

    More typical symptoms of depression may include:

    • Poor concentration
    • Forgetfulness
    • Irritability
    • Memory loss
    • Change in sleeping patterns (unable to sleep or too much sleep)
    • Feeling tired all the time
    • Thoughts of suicide or dying
    • Crying
    • Self-harming behaviours
    • Withdrawal from family and friends

    Not all of these symptoms need to be present and symptoms not listed above may also be associated with Adolescent Depression. If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or if you are a parent and notice them in your teen and they last for more than 2 weeks it is important that you seek help.

    How is Adolescent Depression Treated?

    On the whole the most effective form of treatment for adolescents with moderate to major Depression is a combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions. For adolescents with minor to moderate levels of Depression, Psychotherapy and/or cognitive behavioural therapies are believed to be the best form of treatment.

    • Hospitalisation is generally reserved for those that pose a risk to themselves or others, have no supports, are totally socially isolated, have poor self-care, are experiencing psychotic symptoms or have severe substance abuse issues.
    • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Psychotherapeutic treatments will serve to raise awareness around Depression and how it presents in the individual being treated. They will assist in the identification of unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours and look to replace them with behaviours or thought patterns that will serve better through structured problem solving. They will also look at health, exercise and sleep and encourage these to be incorporated into any treatment program.
    • Counselling is a way for adolescents to meet with a professional regularly to discuss their feelings and the situations that arise that may exacerbate or trigger their Depression. Counselling is a valuable outlet for them to receive support in the above processes and to receive an unbiased view of what may be happening for them at that present moment.
    • Medications such as Anti-Anxiety and Anti-Depressant medications can be provided to assist with Counselling or therapeutic work. Sometimes Depression is just too much for adolescents to handle on their own and these medications can assist in restoring balance to their lives. They are not addictive, nor do they change personality or make individuals dangerous. Whilst they can take some 4 – 6 weeks to take effect they can assist with restoring sleep, appetite, lethargy, Anxiety and concentration.

    What Can Happen If Depression Goes Untreated?

    If your teens Depression goes untreated it can result in very severe and serious mental health and physical health problems including death.

    As mentioned above it can increase the chances of drug and alcohol usage and addiction, dangerous/antisocial behaviour’s, can have an impact on relationships both at home and with peers and create problems at school. These symptoms can also lead to an increased risk of suicide.

    Some signs of alcohol/drug abuse can include:

    • Extreme mood swings
    • Staying out all night with no sleep
    • Money disappearing from the home
    • Avoidance of discussions around drugs/alcohol
    • Tremors
    • Dilated pupils
    • Manic/scattered behaviour at times and very tired non communicative behaviour at others.
    • Nausea, vomiting or excessive sweating
    • Cold like symptoms
    • Needle marks on arms or legs

    Untreated Depression can also lead to eating and sleeping problems which can lead to numerous physical health issues including rapid weight loss or gain, heart problems and chronic fatigue to name a few.

    Suicide is the worst possible outcome for untreated Depression and it is a very real risk. If your child has started to express suicidal thoughts or has made statements like “I wish I was dead”, or, “everything would be better if I am not here”, you should take them very seriously. If you have observed self-harming injuries such as cuts on arms or legs or bruises, burns or scars on your child’s body this could also be a sign that your child may be experiencing suicidal ideation.

    According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 90% of individuals who commit suicide have suffered from Depression. Whilst more woman on average attempt suicide more men are successful.

    Signs of suicidal ideation may include:

    • Talking about suicide
    • Making statements such as “you would be better off without me”
    • Depression
    • Writing about death or suicide in a journal or poetry
    • Increased drug or alcohol usage
    • Abandonment of friends or hobbies
    • Having a plan about killing themselves i.e being clear about a method
    • Suddenly appearing happy and calm after a long period of being noticeably depressed
    • Access to things such as medications, guns, ropes etc
    • Posting comments on public forums (such as facebook) that do not appear “usual”.

    How Can I help?

    • Try as best you can to keep the lines of communication open. Try not to judge or become impatient with your child, at the end of the day you may be the only support they have.
    • Engage the services of the school or school Psychologist. Give your child as many avenues as possible to talk to someone if they are not comfortable talking to you.
    • Speak to their close friends to see if they have said anything concerning to them and ask them to tell you if they think your child may be in any trouble.
    • Educate yourself about Adolescent Depression and how it may present itself.
    • Be aware that dealing with this age group and this problem is extremely difficult as one of the main symptoms is that your child will probably withdraw from you and friends and refuse any sort of discussion or treatment.
    • If you feel your child may be suicidal get help immediately. You can take your child to the local hospital emergency ward or Dr for assessment.
    • You will need to oversee all medication as teenagers can be unreliable and forget to take their meds which can result in symptoms worsening.
    • Contact a Psychologist for ongoing therapy and treatment for your child.
    • Acknowledge that this may be a distressing time for yourself and seek support for you.

    If you suspect that your child is suffering from Depression you can call Eliza at Counselling South on 0417910911

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