Is It Depression or Just a Phase: Spotting the Signs of Teen Depression

Girl sitting on couch looking away. Represents the need for teen therapy for teen depression in katy, tx. Also represents the need for teen depression treatment in houston, tx.

Is It Depression or Just a Phase: Spotting the Signs of Teen Depression

By: Jason Drake, LCSW

The teen years can be a challenging time for a teen. It’s a phase of life filled with complicated emotions and experiences. This is the period of a person’s life where they are breaking out and searching for their own identity separate from their parents. They explore their own values and start to solidify what is important to them.

As if this process isn’t complicated enough, teens also need to manage life with an influx of hormones, the stress of school, and social pressures. This past year added an extra twist that we did not have to face as teens. The global pandemic and the restrictions that has placed on a teen’s ‘normal’ life has had a negative impact on many teens emotional and social development.

Before the global pandemic hit, few were aware of the national epidemic already raging. Teen depression and other emotional struggles have steadily increased over the past decade. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, teen depression has increased 59% since 2007. The National Institute of Health has suicide now being the 2nd leading cause of death among teens. To help combat this nationwide epidemic, Pediatricians now screen teens annually for Major Depressive Disorder.

With all the above, it can be difficult for parents to differentiate between what would be a normal phase a teen experiences and depression. First, it is important that parents know and can recognize symptoms of depression. Below are signs and symptoms parents can be alert for.

Mother comforting daughter sitting on a couch. Represents the need for family therapy in katy, tx. Also represents the need for family therapy and teen depression treatment in houston, tx.Key Indicators Between a Teen Phase and Teen Depression

One of the key indicators of whether it may be a teen phase or something more is the severity of the symptoms, their duration, and their impact on a teen’s life. 

A teen phase may include similar symptoms of depression yet they may not be as severe and may be intermittent or short lived. The teen may seem moody but they also remain functional at their normal ability level. 

Some teens may continue to get good grades. They may withdraw from family a bit but are social with their friends. They may be more irritable and you may see anger outbursts but they are able to rebound and recover.

A sign that it may be something more serious is when the moodiness seems severe and it persists. You notice that their grades may drop and they may stay below their ability level. They may withdraw from family but also start to avoid being with friends. You may notice they are more irritable than not and their anger outbursts may be more frequent. They may have a difficult time recovering from moodiness, irritability, and/or anger.

With the key indicators of severity of the symptoms, duration, and impact, below are signs and symptoms of depression in teens.

Signs and Symptoms of Teen Depression

Depression in teens can present differently than depression in adults. Below are some signs and symptoms of depression in teens according to the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • A constant feeling of sadness, anxiety, or an “empty” feeling
  • Feeling hopeless like nothing will ever get better
  • Feelings of worthlessness 
  • Feelings of guilt particularly over those things they shouldn’t feel guilty about
  • Increase in irritability or anger outbursts (a symptom in teens but not adults)
  • Withdrawing or isolating from family and/or friends (if your teen is isolating from friends, this may be a strong indicator that it may be more than a teen phase)
  • Inability to perform academically to ability level (dropping grades)
  • Loss of interests in hobbies, activities, or other things they used to find enjoyable
  • Change in eating (eating too much or not eating enough)
  • Change in sleep (sleeping too much or not able to get or stay asleep at night)
  • A feeling of being constantly tired (with this symptom, it would be an increase in feeling tired than what has been normal or typical for your teen)
  • Feeling of restlessness and/or difficulty sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Physical complaints such as headaches, cramps, stomach aches (these often do not have a clear cause. When you take them to the doctor, the doctor cannot discover the source of the aches). 
  • Thoughts of suicide or simply not being around 
  • Thoughts of or actual self-harm (cutting, scratching self, etc.)

What Can I Do as a Parent to Help?Son and mother sitting on couch smiling at each other after a family therapy session in Katy. Represents the need for teen therapy and family therapy in katy, tx. Also represents the need for therapy for teens in Katy, tx 77494

As parents, our hearts ache for our kids when they are hurting and in pain. We want to take the hurt away. The physical scrapes and bruises when they were kids were easy to care for. The emotional struggles are a different matter. When your teen experiences depression, anxiety, panic attacks, ADHD/ADD, sometimes we struggle to know just how to help.

Below are ways to be able to help your teen when they are struggling with depression.

Ask, Remain Accepting and Non-Judgmental

When we see that something is wrong with our teens, the first thing we often do is ask them if they are okay. The first response they typically give may be something like, “I’m fine, just tired” or “I’m okay, I just have a headache (or other physical symptom).

Sometimes teens answer this way because they may not fully understand what they are feeling. We can think of our teens as young adults. In fact, they are more like older children. 

We as adults have experienced similar feelings many times in our lives. As a result, we’ve had many opportunities to understand what the feelings are, where they come from, and how to deal with them.

For teens, it may be the first time they are experiencing such intense feelings. They may not understand what they are, where they are coming from, and certainly how to deal with them.

Don’t give up. Remain observant to see if the feelings or behavior persists. Continue to check in from time to time. They may push you away and not let you in. If this is the case, this is a sign that it may not be a phase and may be something more serious.

They may let you in and talk about and try to explain what they are feeling. If they do, praise them for talking with you. Remain non-judgmental, accepting, and caring. Explore with them what they have tried to do to help. Ask if you can offer suggestions more times than not they will say yes. 

Demystify and Destigmatize

Sometimes teens don’t like talking about their depression because they are ashamed. They think they are broken, weak, or will be a disappointment. Helping your teen understand that experiencing depression does not mean any of these things can help in their depression.

You can explain that they are not alone. You can help take away the mystery and stigma that can be associated with depression. Many teens feel like they may be the ‘only ones’ who are experiencing depression. Remember, teen depression has increased 59% since 2007. This means that there are many other teens experiencing similar struggles.

Genetics can play a large role in depression. Your teen gets some amazing strengths from your genes and the genes of their ancestors. Unfortunately, your teen may be genetically predisposed towards depression. 

What this means is that when their genes expressed themselves in the brain, it cause their brain to develop expressing depression. Much like diabetes can be genetic or even acne. It doesn’t mean someone with diabetes or acne is broken, weak, or a disappointment. It just means their genes have presented them a challenge that may take treatment to help with. 

Learning what you can about depression in teens and helping your teen to understand that it does not reflect on them as a person can help lift a heavy weight.

Seek Support From a Specialist

We can role model for our kids that it’s okay to ask for help. If your teen is experiencing depression, the good news is that there are many resources to help your teen. 

There are a variety of effective therapeutic approaches to help teens overcome their depression. These approaches have are supported by research and have been found to be effective. Approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Neurofeedback. 

There are therapists who specialize in teen therapy. Much like a medical doctor chooses to focus their career in one specific area of medicine. There are cardiologists, neurosurgeons, oncologists. The therapy field also has specialists. Teen therapists are those who have chosen to spend their career focused on specializing in teen and family therapy. 

Seeking out support from such a specialist can help provide you as the parent guidance and direction. Having your teen see a teen therapy specialist can also help your teen gain the tools needed to rid their lives of depression. 

Begin Teen Counseling in Katy, TX

If you are ready to let go of things you cannot control, Cheri can help! She provides counseling to individual men, women, and couples. Our teen and family therapists can help your teen and family gain the support, skills, and tools necessary to overcome the crippling effects of depression. To begin counseling in Katy, TX follow these three steps:

  1. Contact the office to set up an appointment or to get more information about counseling for teen depression
  2. Meet with Cheri.
  3. Find ways to improve your teens life!

Other Therapy Services Offered

Cheri offers counseling services for adult individuals including: anxiety treatment, depression treatment, relationship help, and divorce recovery. She specializes in couples therapy and helps with specific issues such as: infidelity, intimacy and sexual health, and parenting Cheri strives to regularly post blogs with helpful information on a variety of mental health topics. To learn more about Cheri and her counseling services, please contact Locke Counseling and Consulting today!