Adolescence is marked by angst, drama, and melancholy. Development for a teen is far more internal compared to the physical development they experienced as a child.
Teenage daughters are famous for snippy replies and irritability. Teenage sons distance themselves with one word answers and occasional grunts. What's the difference between normal adolescence and something more serious?
Sadness or hopelessness
Trying to function through a state of sadness is not the same thing as an occasional bad mood. Viewing life through a filter of hopelessness is not the same thing as feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. Tearfulness or frequent crying could be a sign of depression.
Irritability, anger or hostility
One of the most common misconceptions about depression is that it means someone is sad most of the time. On the contrary, depression more often shows up as irritability. It is one thing to have a bad day or even be cranky from time to time, but it may be depression if everyone around you is doing "everything" wrong all the time.
Withdrawal from friends and family
It is natural for us to rely on friends and family when life is hard or we need help. Withdrawing from these sources of help may be a sign that feelings are too big or the internal distance seems too great to reach out for help.
Loss of interest in normal activities
Activities relieve stress and hobbies relax us, as well as often giving us a way to connect with others. Losing interest in normal activities may mean that your teen already feels disconnected or distant.
Changes in eating and sleeping habits
Eating too much or too little can be a physical symptom of changes in brain chemicals, or contribute to these changes. Sleeping too much or not being able to go to sleep or stay asleep may also be a red flag.
Some depressed teens will frequently complain of headaches, stomach aches or other physical ailments for which no medical cause can be found.
Restlessness and agitation
. Teenagers experience emotions more intensely than adults, and often express them with more volatility. This struggle with emotional regulation may show up even when nothing specific is bothering them.
Drinking, substance abuse or promiscuity may be well-known acting out behaviors in teens. But reckless driving, bullying, excessive media use, phone/app addictions and putting oneself in danger are other dangerous behaviors that could indicate depression.
Thoughts of death or suicide
Comments about wanting to disappear or not having a way out are common with depressed teens. Some depressed teens also romanticize dying, thinking they would be appreciated more if they were already gone. Others might write or draw about death or dying. Any of those would be a red flag to seek further help from professionals. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention gives some great resources for help.
Even without depressive symptoms, teenage years often include bad moods and acting out behaviors. The challenges of a healthy adolescence are balanced by soothing experiences that help your teen cope. Close friendships loosen some of the angst, school activities keep perspective on the drama and playtime as a family eases the melancholy. If these things are not helping, and if the depressive feelings persist or interfere with functioning, it may be time to seek help from professionals.