By Renée Morrison
If you’re like most people involved in the lives of high schoolers, you’re no stranger to teen mood swings. For adolescents, the boost in hormones during puberty—added to the stress of getting good grades and fitting in socially—can cause drastic emotional highs and lows. This is healthy and normal, but for some, those lows become a constant. A teen may be suffering from depression if you’ve noticed some or all of the symptoms below on a daily basis for two weeks or longer:
- Severe irritability and anger
- Sadness or frequent crying
- Worsening grades and lack of motivation
- Changes in eating patterns, along with weight gain or loss
- Lack of energy and fatigue, including after school and on weekends
- Withdrawal from social activities, clubs, and friends
- Poor sleeping habits
- New or worsening physical issues, such as digestive problems, headaches, or muscle pain
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm (important: If a student has mentioned feeling suicidal or physically harming themselves, seek immediate help from a mental health professional). Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.
It can be hard to accept and understand depression when it’s happening to a student you care about. You might feel frustrated and confused, wondering why they can’t just find the silver lining or cheer up. But depression is a medical disorder—it’s not something that a person with depression can control.
Facts about depression
- In 2014, more than 11 percent of teenagers aged 12 to 17 suffered at least one major depressive episode.
- The most common time for an onset of depression is between the ages of 15 and 24.
- Girls are more likely than boys to suffer depression. In a recent national survey, over 17 percent of teen girls had faced a depressive episode compared to just over 5 percent of teen boys. There are a few theories as to why; studies show girls and women experience more intense hormonal fluctuations, higher genetic likelihood, and higher stress levels than boys and men do. Read more about the gender gap in depression here.
- Underlying medical conditions (e.g., hyperthyroidism, mononucleosis) can cause exhaustion and symptoms that feel like depression.
- Those with other disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anxiety, or eating disorders, are more likely to develop depression, as are teens with chronic medical conditions (asthma, cancer, diabetes, etc.).
“Science does not yet fully understand the chemical and nerve-cell connection abnormalities that underlie depression,” says Dr. Alan J. Gelenberg, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Arizona. “Fortunately, people today who suffer from depression can find relief and often fully recover.”
Here’s what you can do to help:
- Listen to teens without judgment if they talk to you about depressive feelings. If they’re not opening up on their own, ask gently about their changing behavior.
- Offer your support and let the student know that you’re on their team, ready to help them recover.
- Research as much as you can to gain knowledge about depression. Below is a list of resources to help you understand the disorder.
- Share your concern with the school counselor and the student’s parent. Always notify a parent if there is any indication a student may be suicidal.
- Encourage students to keep up with any tasks that could help in their recovery, such as journaling, therapy, talking to a school counselor, and physical activity.
Resources to help you learn more about depression:
Teen depression: Mayo Clinic
Responding to a student’s depression: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255