By Jennie Bell, LMHC, Finger Lakes Community Health, an independent health care organization with 8 health centers in the region.
These last few years have been stressful for everyone, and that is especially true for teenagers. There has been an increase in mental health symptoms in teenagers across the country since the beginning of the pandemic, and oftentimes parents are struggling with how to help and where to turn. In this article, we will talk about the warning signs and treatment options that can be used to help manage symptoms.
Teenage years are often defined by angst, rebellion, and breaking away from family in a search for independence. But symptoms of depression are not “normal” in adolescent development and should be taken seriously.
Some signs of depression:
• Becoming withdrawn – A child that was once happy and outgoing might suddenly become more withdrawn and not engage in family conversations or activities.
• Isolating from family and friends – Similar to becoming withdrawn, a child might start isolating from family and might change their friend group.
• Failing grades – A sudden or gradual reduction in grade point average is something to talk with your teen about, as depression might be interfering with their ability to focus and concentrate on schoolwork.
• Mood swings- Extreme highs and lows or increases in crying or irritability are signs to look out for.
• Change in sleep patterns – An increase or decrease in sleep or having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep can be signs of depression.
• Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed- this is something that is a hallmark of depression; the child that was once excited to play a sport or an instrument might now show little interest in that or doing anything.
• Increased use of social media – Statistics have shown the more a teen is using social media, the more apt they are to depression and self-harming activities. Parents should monitor their teen’s time on social media and be aware of the online risk factors such as websites and apps that promote self-harm and suicide.
• Possible drug and alcohol use – Sometimes a teen’s change in mood and increased depression is due to new use or chronic use of drugs and alcohol, including vaping or smoking cigarettes.
If you notice that a teen is experiencing any of these symptoms and seems to be showing signs of depression, there are resources available to help with the situation.
Valuable resources to help the teen you love
Teens can reach out to school counselors for urgent situations that they want to talk about in the moment. When symptoms are chronic and interfering with daily functioning, clinical counseling is helpful in talking with a therapist to learn new and positive ways of coping with depression. Teens can go to a local counseling clinic, or look online for telehealth therapy. Telehealth therapy is conducted by phone or online which often makes it easier.
Sometimes medication management is advised to help with symptoms and a doctor or psychiatrist referral is needed. Parents can advocate for their teens by enrolling them in counseling and taking an active role in being supportive and empathic when talking with their children about depression.
Seeing more severe signs?
If a teen is having more dangerous symptoms of depression such as talking or showing signs of self-harm and suicide, then immediate intervention is needed. A parent can take their child to the hospital to be evaluated by a mental health professional to see if a higher level of care is needed. This keeps the child safe and can get more intensive treatment. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255 and counselors are available 24/7 to help with crisis situations.
There are also online resources such as online support groups and chats. There are apps that teens can download on their smartphones that are helpful as well, such as Calm, Pacifica, and MoodPath. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great resource for family and friends of someone struggling with mental health and can offer support through local community groups as well as online groups, find out more at this website.
If you think your teen is showing signs of depression and needs help, please reach out to their primary care provider, their school social worker, or look online for outpatient mental health services available in your area or teletherapy services. Locally, Finger Lakes Community Health offers behavioral health therapy in person, by phone, or online. Find out more at our website.