When we observe the behavior and attitudes of our teens whose brains, bodies, forethought and judgement are still in development, they might look like they are oversized kids – uncoordinated, sometimes goofy and lacking in proper problem solving skills. Their moodiness and poor emotional control make it easy to identify typical adolescent behavior.
However, some differences, like identifying how differently depression looks between adolescents and adults, are not so easily distinguishable. It is important to be cognizant of symptoms that, although may occur for adults, are prevalent among teenagers suffering from depression.
When we think about depression symptoms the first thing that usually comes to mind is a continual feeling of sadness, hopelessness and possibly thoughts of suicide. Adolescents could withdraw from friends, family and activities they used to enjoy. Typically adults will isolate themselves more than adolescents will. While teens may have a diminished interest in being social, they will usually continue to interact with a small number of friends. Both adults and teens may experience changes in their eating and sleeping patterns. Depression in teens can also present as poor performance in school and a lack of motivation, energy or enthusiasm. There could also be an increase in anger, irritability and rage, and over reaction to criticism. A depressed teen may also experience problems with authority, feelings of guilt and feeling they are unable to satisfy ideals. This could be both their own ideals and expectations or feeling that parents expect perfection from them. Teens with depression will often experience low self-esteem and might self-medicate using drugs, alcohol, sex or excessive spending. They might also start self-harming behaviors such as cutting on themselves. Teens may also experience more frequent restlessness (boredom) or agitation. Quite possibly the most commonly misdiagnosed symptoms of depression in teens are impulsivity, distractibility and forgetfulness which can appear very similar to ADHD symptoms.
While one person probably won’t experience all of these symptoms, it is important to remember teens may try to hide or downplay many of their symptoms. Teens may have difficulty identifying their depressive symptoms and as parents it can be easy to miss many symptoms by attributing this to having an emotional child. It’s important to remember that depression in a teenager is not the same as depression in an adult. While this can be frustrating and challenging as a parent to learn to identify and help manage some of these symptoms, it is even harder for the teen experiencing them.