This article is sponsored by CHOC Children’s Hospital
The teenage years are a time in life unlike any other marked by new, fluctuating hormones, social pressures, and school stresses. These new situations can understandably cause kids to feel down or depressed at times. But for others the feelings of sadness or hopelessness can persist in a state of depression. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 20% of teenagers experience depression before reaching adulthood.
A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found depression rates amongst teens stayed fairly stable from the years 2005 – 2011. However from 2012 to 2014 the rates of depression were on the rise for both boys and girls, with a more pronounced increase for teenage girls.
What is causing this increase? Is the advent of social media playing a role at putting more girls at risk for depression?
I am exploring this question, along with other extremely helpful information provided by Dr. Adrianne Alpern Ph.D. a child psychologist at CHOC Children’s Hospital on warning signs of depression in teens, symptoms and how to get help if you suspect your teenager might be depressed.
My daughter will be eleven soon and over the past year I have seen her evolve from a little girl into a blossoming tween where friends are paramount and Music.ly’s have taken the place of pretend play. She’s growing up.
And it terrifies me.
But why is the idea of having a teenager so scary? Growing up is part of life. We all have to go through it. Logically I know this. However, as I see the years of hovering under her at the big ladder at the park and holding her hand across every street slowly come to an end I also see my ability to protect her start to fade.
At the root of the fear is the loss of control.
Up until now it’s been my job as her mom to protect her and keep her out of harms way. When our babies are close to the nest we can watch them and keep them safe. But as she spreads her wings and starts to fly into the world without me I won’t be able to protect her in the same way.
Girls will hurt her feelings, disappointments will sting on a bigger scale, and pressures at school will build. All of which will be things completely out of my control.
My role as her mother is starting to change.
Instead of trying to protect her from these hurts, my job will be to listen, support and encourage her to dust off her wings and try again.
More damage control versus prevention.
And it is my prayer that she will be able to work through whatever hard times the teenage years hold for her.
But what happens when your teen has difficulty getting through a hard time? What happens when hurt feelings or disappointments turn into sad moods that last for weeks?
How do you know when a teen mood swing isn’t a swing at all, but could actually be an episode of depression?
This week I had the opportunity to interview pediatric psychologist Dr. Adrianne Alpern Ph.D. about depression in teens which I am happy to share with you today as I feel it is extremely important information to have as parents.
Normal Teenage Moodiness vs. Depression
My first question was, “How do you know the difference between ‘normal’ teen moodiness and clinical depression?” Dr. Alpern highlighted the fact everyone feels sad or down sometimes and being sad is a normal part of the human experience. But an episode of depression differentiates in important ways and this is a simple way to remember possible warning signs of depression.
Depression is when feeling sad or disinterested in activities you used to enjoy lasts for:
- > Most of the day
- > More days than not
- > For two weeks or more
Say it with me moms…depression is when feeling sad or disinterested in enjoyable activities lasts for most of the day, more days than not, for two weeks or more. I will remember that, won’t you?
Some Other Symptoms of Depression in Your Teenager Could Include:
- > More or less sleep
- > Changes in appetite
- > Fatigue
- > Changes in concentration
- > Thoughts of being a “bad daughter” or “bad friend”
- > Changes in movement….moving either quicker or slower than normal
- > Thoughts of not wanting to be around anymore, wanting to disappear or die
Study Finds Depression Rates Increasing in Teenage Girls
A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found depression rates amongst teens increased from 2012 – 2014 from 8.7% to 11%, and the rise in rates of depression was more pronounced in teenage girls.
Professionals theorize the use of social media could play a role in the increase in depression. Teenage girls are more likely to engage in social media and use it as a source of their self-esteem looking to others for validation or acceptance. Social media can unfortunately also be another avenue for bullying or social shaming.
Others suggest the economic downturn could have played a role in the way teens viewed the future. Or, maybe our evolving openness in the media with celebrities sharing their mental health struggles might encourage teens to be more apt to report their depression than in years past.
But regardless of the cause, the take away for us as parents though is the same – depression amongst teens is very real, and our girls are especially vulnerable. Teen depression is increasing and we need to be aware of it.
What To Do If You Think Your Teen is Depressed
Dr. Alpern stressed parents know their teen the best. If you notice changes in your teen’s mood or behavior, there’s no reason to panic, but it is a sign to pay attention and start some conversations.
When talking to your teen, she emphasized how the most important thing we can do as parents is to listen. Sometimes it is easy to downplay teen struggles because many parents think “life is easy” for a teen. What on earth could be so stressful? They have no mortgage, food is on the table, they have a roof over their head, etc.
However, teenagers have legitimate stressors in life, many of which they are encountering for the first time, so it’s important to empathize and validate their feelings versus discounting them.
If the sad or down moods persist and start to interfere with your child’s relationships with friends or family, school work, or ability to complete daily activities (such as chores), it might be time to seek the help of trained mental health professionals.
Your child’s pediatrician could be the first place you turn to for direction on where to go to help. Many insurance plans also have lists of mental health providers.
Help is available and effective treatments exist for depression.
How to Explain What Therapy is to Your Teen
Dr. Alpern expressed how there are so many misconceptions about therapy and we both agreed that “myths and facts about therapy” deserves its own entire blog post for this very reason! Many people think therapy is a place where you just talk about problems and vent but that is what friends and family are for. Therapy is so much more.
To break it down simply for your teen, therapy is a place to get help with the thoughts or behaviors that are causing you to be “stuck” and therapists are trained to notice these thoughts or behaviors and are able to brainstorm with you to help get you “unstuck”.
But What If My Teen Doesn’t Want to go to Therapy?
Dr. Alpern brought up the point that a lot of teens are resistant to the idea of going to therapy. However, if as a parent, you can get them in the door, the therapist can take it from there.
She suggested telling your teen how much you love them and how as their parent you want them to give it a try to see if it helps. Urge them to try it for 3 – 4 times and assure them they do not have to talk about anything they don’t want to. Tell them they can decide what they want to talk about. Giving them this sense of control can be comforting when going into an unknown situation.
There are Effective Treatments for Depression!
Dr. Alpern told me effective treatments exist for depression, and there is ALWAYS hope. With the help of a licensed trained counselor or psychologist in addition to adjunct consultation from a psychiatrist when necessary, depression can be treated.
If you are looking into help for your child, the website www.effectivechildtherapy.org can be a great place to start. She suggests this site to many parents as a mental health resource. Click on “The Public” and you can find lists of symptoms and treatment options.
Teens Are Not Ticking Time Bombs
When I was expressing my fears about having a teenage daughter someday she told me many parents approach their teen like a ticking time bomb with gloves on, trying to diffuse whatever might come their way. I had a good laugh at this visual. So true!
She assured me that MOST teenagers do JUST FINE in the teen years. She assured me that many teens are using social media appropriately without significant harmful effects. After all, 87% of girls and 94% of boys in the study in Pediatrics did not report significant symptoms of depression within the past year. She assured me that many teens will be able to navigate life without any major issues.
However, help is out there and you do not, I repeat, do NOT have to face these challenges and your child does not have to face challenges alone. Getting help for depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns is nothing to be ashamed of, it is just as important as their physical health. If your child has a broken leg, you would rush them into the doctor for treatment. If your child seems “stuck” in weeks of sadness or withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy, it’s time to take them into the doctor for treatment.
For more information on the CHOC Children’s pediatric mental health initiative visit: