Depression and Other Mood Disorders in Teens

Mother and teen

The teen years are a time of intense psychological, cognitive, and emotional change. Your teen’s moods change as frequently as the latest style and crises arise out of nowhere. Sometimes, though, your teen’s moodiness may be a sign ofsomething more serious. How do you know when to let it go and when to get help? Here are some symptoms of depression and other mood disorders:

Signs of Depression and Other Mood Disorders

Persistently depressed, anxious, or irritable mood

When your teen expresses feelings of sadness, despair, loneliness or low self esteem for more than two weeks in a row, pay attention. It is particularly important to note if the change in mood is not the result of a loss such as a death or breakup. Depression can often show up as intense irritability in teens. In this case, an adolescent who is excessively “cranky”, frustrated and/or angry may be experiencing signs of depression.

Changes in eating and/or sleeping

While teens often stay up too late and “catch up” on sleep on weekends, if your teen consistently complains of an inability to fall asleep or wakes frequently during the night and has trouble returning to sleep, make sure you talk to your pediatrician or health care provider. Similarly, teens can be picky eaters or can eat you out of house and home – both of which can be part of normal adolescent development. Signs of a problem can include rigid dieting, unexplained weight loss, binge eating, or self-induced vomiting. Use of laxatives and diuretics among teens has been linked to disordered eating and should be monitored closely.

Social withdrawal

“I don’t have any friends” is a frequent adolescent lament. However, decreased social interaction with friends and family that persists over a period of time can signal a problem.

Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities

A lack of motivation or interest in previously enjoyed activitites can be a sign of depression or other mood disorder. Teens can switch friend groups or activities as they discover themeselves But if your teen drops sports teams, band, clubs, or activities that were once a source of enjoyment, or if their school performance suddenly drops, you may want to talk to them about their choices.

Substance Abuse

Adolescent brains continue to develop into their mid 20’s. Despite the changing legal and social climate around marijuana use, the fact remains that marijuana use can impact learning, memory, and the development of social and coping skills. Alcohol and drug related driving accidents are among the leading cause of death among adolescents. It’s OK to have a no-tolerance policy around alcohol and drug use with your teen. And while alcohol and marijuana may give a temporary “high,” both are depressants and can lead to mood disorders. Here is an article to help you determine if your child’s substance abuse is an even more serious problem.

Suicidal thoughts/threats or acts of self-harm

Always take suicidal thoughts or threats of self -harm seriously. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34. Teens lack the coping skills and perspective of adults, and can view temporary problems as insurmountable, leading to feelings of hopelessness and despair. If your teen is expressing suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately.