What to Do If Your Teen Has Signs of Depression

Your child's pain can reveal itself in distinctive ways

Depressed Teen

Adolescence is an emotional time of ups and downs. But marked changes in typical behavior can be a red flag that the problem is more serious. Your teen may be showing early signs of depression.

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Adolescents show many of the same common signs of depression in adults. They may experience persistent feelings of sadness or crying spells for seemingly no reason. You may see that they take less pleasure in things they used to enjoy. They may eat or sleep too much or not enough.

They also may struggle to concentrate, make decisions or remember simple things. Drug or alcohol use can be a sign that they are struggling and seeking an escape.

The most serious sign for anyone suffering from depression is if they question the point of living or talk about hurting themselves or committing suicide.

Sustained symptoms

Adolescents typically don’t articulate their feelings, says psychiatrist Amit Anand, MD, vice president of the Mood and Emotional Disorders Across the Lifespan (MEDALS) program at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Anand is chief investigator in a clinical trial for adolescents and young adults to identify possible markers of bipolar disorder development in young patients with depression.

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Parents who suspect their child is depressed should see two characteristics in their child’s behavior before taking action, Dr. Anand says.

“These symptoms have to represent a change from your teenager’s normal self,” he says.

“Second, one or more of the symptoms need to occur continuously for a sustained period of time despite good things going on in the teen’s life,” Dr. Anand says. “This means the parent observes the symptoms not just for an hour or two, but for several weeks or a couple of months.”

What you should do for your teen

If you observe several of these symptoms in your teen over an extended period of time – especially the persistent sad mood or crying – schedule an appointment for your child with his or pediatrician.

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However, if there is any indication of a safety issue, Dr. Anand says to seek psychiatric medical advice as soon as possible – even taking your child to an emergency room if you sense the danger of harm is imminent.

“If the teen has done something to harm himself or herself or they are talking about suicide, that should be taken very seriously,” he says. “That’s when you need to get them to a psychiatric specialist as quickly as possible.”

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