A Guide for Parents and Guardians to Understand What Their Teens are Feeling and How to Help.
By Shayna McGaha
Signs of depression can sometimes be easy or sometimes hard to spot, depending on the severity. Mental illness is a sneaky little bastard who tries to slip by others so they don’t detect its presence. Fortunately, I can help you recognize and snuff out the intruder invading your teen — because I’m a teen with depression.
The top five signs:
Excessive Sleeping or Not Enough:
Is your teen looking like he/she barely gets enough sleep even though they stay in bed hours on end during the day? That’s one of the major signs of depression — but it can also link to insomnia and other sleep issues, so be careful making accusations. If your teen is in bed all the time and barely comes out of his/her room, then it’s time for a talk.
For me, sleep is an escape mechanism from the troubles of reality. It makes things easier because you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to think, and you don’t have to feel. Your teen can sleep all day, but at night they can be plagued by negative thoughts about himself/herself.
Another reason why sleep is a common symptom is because of the fact that it’s the closest thing to death anyone is ever going to get in the living world.
Indulging in food is a coping mechanism almost everyone is familiar with. With depression comes weight gain because of excessive eating to feel those happy hormones your teen misses. That or your teen experiences weight loss to the point their healthy body barely weighs more than a hundred pounds. Depression can lead to a feeling of emptiness where your teen might not be able to tell the difference if they’re hungry or not.
If you notice this, try having a talk with them; but try not to make them feel self-conscious about their eating habits.
Your teen might be spending more time alone. Maybe in his/her room, a park, the backyard maybe? Either way, depression makes the affected feel that isolation is the safest route to protect him/herself from rejection from family, friends, and even peers. Try nudging them out of their safe place once in a while and try to make them feel included.
Excessive Anger or Self Loathing:
Does your usually calm teen express more anger than he/she used to? Does he/she seem more unhappy with him/herself than you remember? Depression will do that. Your teen’s perception of how the world sees him/her changed, and this will make them angry at him/herself and the world. If your teen is angry all the time or more often than normal, it’s time to sit them down and have a chat.
Cutting or Self-Mutilation:
Now things are getting serious. At the high school, a new fad has gone around called “cutting.” Some people do it because they think it’s cool, while others do it because it’s an emotional outlet. If your teen is trying their best to hide their arms or legs, it might be time to ask them to roll up their sleeves and pant legs to check what they want to hide. Sometimes emotional pain can be enough to make it so we want to hurt ourselves. If your teen shows any signs of cutting, get him/her help IMMEDIATELY.
What is Depression? What causes it?
I have read that depression is a mental illness which can be caused by various things ranging from emotional trauma to not enough serotonin in the brain. Being a part of the second group (not being able to produce enough serotonin), I can tell you that it makes a huge impact on one’s life. From my own experience, it included never being able to feel happiness like everyone else seemed to be able to feel. It affected my school work, my family, and social life.
Emotional trauma can be much worse, though. If your teen recently lost a loved one, went through a huge change, or had an accident they blame him/herself for, it could have affected the brain enough to introduce depression into their life.
Depression can even be genetically passed down from one parent or both to the offspring. There can be something that triggers the illness or it can show up randomly.
If you see a drastic change in your teen make sure he/she knows that no matter what, you’re there for them — because a depressed teen feels like everyone is against you. Knowing that you’re there for them will make a big impact on how mental illness will affect them.
What Exactly Does Your Teen Feel?
Depression causes many different emotions and sensations besides just sadness. The thing many people believe is that people who deal with depression only feel sadness and they can’t feel anything else. Well, there are many different things that contribute to the sadness.
The feelings of isolation, guilt, self-hatred, anxiety, and hopelessness are some of them. People who deal with this mental illness pretty much have the emotional equivalent of a raging earthquake and it won’t stop. It feels like the world is against you. At least that’s what your teen’s brain is telling them. They are their own worst enemy, and they need help realizing that what they believe is wrong and it will take time to change it.
If they’ve had depression for some time they might not want to get rid of it. Because of how long they’ve had it, it’s become comfortable for them; and without it is a change they won’t want at first. There are others, though, who want to get as far away from depression as possible. They want help and they want it N-O-W.
Both types are different, but dealing with them the same way will help. Listen to your teen when they come to you; be their safe place when they need one; and never expect them to toughen up the moment they need you.
Depression is a leach and it can take months, maybe even years, to get rid of. Or it might take that long just to make it so it doesn’t affect your teen as badly as it did.
Your teen doesn’t want this and dislikes it just as much as you do, so don’t take it out on them. As a parent of a depressed teen, the best thing to do is be there for them no matter how angry or disappointed you feel. Mental illness has never been, nor will it ever be, a choice — but how you and your teen cope with it is.