Rates of depression have been higher during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fears about health, family stress, loss, disappointments due to cancellations or quarantine, less social connection and reduced physical activity can all contribute to this increase. While increased stress, worry and feelings of disappointment and sadness might be more common during this past year for teens, it is important to understand when depression is present and when there might be risk for self-harm or suicide.
What is Depression?
Depression is a medical illness. It affects mood, thinking and behavior. Depression can interfere with an ability to function in expected daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or school. Depression involves a low mood that often includes sadness, despair, and hopelessness that lasts for week or months. Depression interferes with participation in life – it changes thoughts, outlook, and behaviors and can affect friendships, family relationships, academic performance, and health. (See also
A person with depression might show increased negative mood, highly negative and self-critical thinking, and act and move differently. Given the increased rates of stress and isolation this year and the general expected mood fluctuations and changed behaviors during adolescence, how do you know when a teen is experiencing depression?
Signs of Depression for Teens
- Persistent feeling of deep or overwhelming sadness or hopelessness.
- Low energy or motivation.
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements.
- Low self-esteem.
- Sleep changes. (Sleeping too much or difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep).
- Loss of pleasure or interest in activities that were once enjoyed.
- Withdrawing from friends and family. Avoiding others or spending more time alone.
- Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism
- Anxiety and panic.
- Worry and irritability. Lashing out in anger because of distress.
- Difficulty organizing, concentrating, or remembering.
- Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
- Negative thinking (Negative views of self, life and the world).
- Feeling worthless and guilty.
- Significant changes in appetite or weight.
- Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors
- Poor concentration and ability to focus or pay attention in class.
- Physical pain or headaches, stomachaches without a reason.
- Self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
References:https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=understanding-teenage-depression-1-2220 https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/depression.html https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/teen-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20350985
What Can Parents Do?
Know the emotional and behavioral signs of depression. These changes are present for weeks or months.
Questions to Consider for a parent from Child Mind:
- Has your teen been sad or irritable most of the day, most days in a week for at least two weeks?
- Lost interest in things that they used to really enjoy?
- Have very little energy, very little motivation to do much of anything?
- Express feeling worthless, hopeless about their future, or guilty about things that aren’t their fault?
- Academic grades dropped or finding it hard to concentrate?
Parenting a Depressed Teenager: https://childmind.org/article/how-to-help-your-depressed-teenager/
Talk with your teen. Be supportive. Ask direct questions (without getting upset or judging). Validate Feelings. Try to encourage healthy behaviors (adequate sleep, limiting social media, daily exercise and physical activity). Ask your teen to join you in an activity. Model healthy behaviors. Listen to problems without trying to fix them.
Questions you can ask your teen:
- Do you constantly feel sad, anxious, or even “empty,” like you feel nothing?
- Do you feel hopeless, empty, or like everything is going wrong?
- Do you feel like you are worthless or helpless? Tired/drained/exhausted? Having trouble concentrating? Remembering information or making decisions?
- Do you ever think about dying or suicide? Have you ever tried to harm yourself?
Do not ignore comments about death or suicide. Take any comment about suicide or self-harm seriously.
From Risk factors and Warning Signs: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/how-we-can-all-prevent-suicide/ Has your teen talked about wanting to die or kill self? Talked about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live? Talked about unbearable pain or feeling trapped? Increased use of drugs or alcohol? Talked about being a burden to others? Showing rage or talked about seeking revenge? Had extreme mood swings?
If your teen is having thoughts of suicide get an evaluated by a mental health professional immediately. If the thoughts are really serious and there is imminent threat go to an ER.
Resources to Share for any Teen who might be Considering Suicide
CALL: In crisis and need help, call this toll-free number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL), available 24 hours a day, every day: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
The service is available to everyone. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. All calls are confidential.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)TEXT: Use TXT 4 HELP Interactive (www.nationalsafeplace.org/txt-4-help), which allows live texting with a mental health professional.
The Crisis Text Line is another free, confidential resource available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Text “HOME” to 741741 and a trained crisis counselor will respond to you with support and information over text message. Visit www.crisistextline.org.
If you (or your teen) see messages or live streaming video of suicidal behavior on social media, call 911 immediately, contact the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741).
WEBSITES: Lifeline’s website at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.