-by Naimah Shaw


When  we think  of  teenagers and the years of adolescence, we think of a “happy go lucky” attitude, drama, years of rebellion and the natural process of independence and separation from family as they build an identity for themselves. The in between years of them thinking they are an adult but not quite ready to act like one or bear the consequences associated with rebellious behaviors. Often times, these attitudes stem from deeper issues that adults chalk up to “having a bad day.”

Not  uncommon for parents, caregivers, teachers and other observant adults is the budding question of whether certain behaviors in teens are the result of normal hormonal changes or whether its mental health, or even drug use related. It’s time to break the taboo and speak out about mental health and teenage years. One of the most severe forms of mental health issues affecting this age group is depression. Unfortunately, this is not something like a broken arm or sprained ankle. Most people from the outside looking in can not see any symptoms of depression. Teenagers are often told to get out more, exercise, find some friends or try harder in school when they express any emotion signifying the slightest sign of struggle. In today’s society, with the advent of social media, parents need to be particularly conscientious in looking for signs of  depression. While teens use social media as a platform to form and maintain friendships, they also suffer from the validation or lack thereof of a “like”, cyberbullying, trolling and fake and distorted associations. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that depression affects more than 15 million Americans every year and is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people ages 15 to 45. More than 80% of those diagnosed do not receive nor sustain treatment for mental health.

What do adults need to know?
Mental  health issues among teenagers is more than laziness, lack of motivation and definitely more than sadness. Depression is not the feeling of sadness but rather the lack of feeling thereof. These issues are not something that teens can simply “get over” but rather the situation needs to be carefully monitored and professionally assessed. It is something that teenagers often need counselling and treatment for.

Signs of Depression and Mental Health Issues in teenagers:
1) Low motivation. This can be signaled by lack of effort in school, extra curriculars or simple everyday activities  that were once enjoyed. Although being distraught is common if a teen either doesn’t do well on a test, has a falling out with a friend or doesn’t get invited to an event, when parents see visible feelings of sadness that has become continual and seems to overwhelm them , then it becomes an issue.

2) Drop in school attendance and or punctuality. The unwillingness to see or associate with anyone or the unwillingness to be in a social setting or a public environment can prevent your teen from being punctual or showing up at all.  Look for strong resistance to attending school or constant absenteeism.

3) Drop in grades. Has your teen’s grades suddenly dropped? Do you see a lack of motivation or  no desire to change it?

4) Lack of self care. Self love and self care  becomes difficult when a teenager is  battling depression. Be aware of changes in appearance. Is there a refusal to take a shower, change clothing or smell good?

5) Isolation. Is your teen chronically isolating themselves from others? Are they refusing to engage in activities or “cloaking” themselves, this means are they are shrouding themselves in oversized, unstylish hoodies when the weather doesn’t warrant it? Even this article of clothing covering a portion of their face and body can give the effect of isolation.

6) No energy to do tasks. Are the mundane tasks like cleaning the room seemingly overwhelming?

7) Lack  of appetite. Is your teenager suddenly refusing to eat their favorite foods and absent from the dinner table?

8) Everyone and everything is annoying.  Do you find your teen on edge at you and their best friend constantly? Are they filled with angst towards everything and everyone?

9) Change  in sleep patterns. Suddenly sleeping too much or too little? Sleep disturbance and change in sleeping habits has long since been deemed the number one indicator of depression.

10) Constant pain. Research suggests that those who suffer from depression or a mental illness are 3 times more likely to suffer from chronic pain.

*Please note that no one sign is a significant red flag of depresssion. The nature, severity and duration of the problem are factors that need to be taken into careful consideration. Also, be mindful that even though your teen can give you a poor attitude or not be receptive to you asking them questions, it is important to show care and concern for any alarming behaviors. It is never easy to speak to someone going through a difficult situation, especially when we may be in denial that the child we have raised with good guidance may be struggling with issues far beyond our comprehension. This denial should not prolong us helping the teen. And with most health issues, early intervention is a key factor and an integral part of success.

Here ARE Important factors when initiating a conversation ABOUt Depression:

1) Remain calm.

2) Don’t invalidate their feelings, emotions or thoughts, even if they seem irrational to you.

3) Don’t make personal attacks; about incidents that occurred in the past. Deal with only the present situation or the teen may feel under attack and put up defense mechanisms.

4) Be prepared to listen even if there are things you don’t want to hear.

5) Don’t assume you have all the right answers.

This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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