ALBERT LEA, Minn. – With many teens heading back to school, peer pressure and academic expectations are once again a reality. These added pressures can cause ups and downs during what can be an already tumultuous time of life. For some teens, though, the lows could be more than just temporary feelings. They could be symptoms of depression.
Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of children diagnosed with depression and anxiety has increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011–2012. Among adolescents aged 12-17 years in 2018-2019 reporting on the past year: 15.1% had a major depressive episode.
“Teen depression is a serious mental health concern,” says Sanskriti Mishra, M.D., Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. “Depression can affect how teenagers think, feel and behave, and it can cause emotional, functional and physical struggles. Although depression can occur at any time in life, symptoms can differ between teens and adults.”
Signs and symptoms of depression in a teen include a change in their attitude and behavior that can cause significant distress at school or home, in social activities, and or in other areas of life.
Be alert for emotional changes, including:
•Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason.
•Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters.
•Feeling hopeless or empty.
•Irritability or annoyed mood.
•Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities.
•Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends.
•Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
•Fixation on past failures, or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism.
•Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance.
•Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things.
•Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak.
•Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide.
Watch for changes in behavior, including:
•Tiredness and loss of energy.
Insomnia or sleeping too much.
•Changes in appetite, including decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite, stress eating and weight gain.
•Use of alcohol or drugs.
•Signs of agitation or restlessness, including pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still.
•Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements.
•Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse.
•Poor school performance or frequent absences from school.
•Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance.
•Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors.
•Self-harm, including cutting or burning.
•Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt.
Treatment depends on the type and severity of a teenager’s depression symptoms.
“A combination of talk therapy and medication can be effective for most teens with depression,” explains Dr. Mishra. “If a teen has severe depression or is in danger of self-harm, they may need a hospital stay or may need to participate in an outpatient treatment program until symptoms improve.”
While antidepressant drugs often effectively treat depression and anxiety in children and teenagers, their use in children and teens must be monitored carefully.
“Children and Adolescents taking an antidepressant should be watched closely for worsening depression or unusual behavior, and suicidal thoughts especially when first beginning a new medication or with a change in dosage,” explains Dr. Mishra.
Depression can also be a sign or symptom of several other disorders. An accurate diagnosis is the key to getting appropriate treatment.
“If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, consult your child’s healthcare provider. Describe the behaviors that concern you. Talk to your child’s teacher, close friends, relatives or other caregivers to see if they’ve noticed changes in your child’s behavior. Share this information with your child’s provider,” says Dr. Mishra.