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June 21, 2012

Do you have a teen that has bouts of irritability, angry outbursts or occasional mood
swings? If yes, then you have a very typical teen moving through the transition
from childhood to adulthood with a healthy dose of emotional growing pains. These
types of benign behaviors are not depression. Depression is a clinical diagnosis
that manifests in troubled teenagers when their regular transitional reactions are
prolonged and debilitating.

The teenage years are both exciting and coarse. Teens are faced with biological
changes in their bodies as well as intellectual stimuli that have them asking, “Who
am I?” and “How do I fit in?” and “What is my purpose?” It is a time where there may
be sadness in departing from what may have been a blissful childhood to looking
ahead at what adulthood means and the responsibilities that role plays. So they are
not quite adults and yet no longer children. They are teens and it is a remarkable
place to be.

Being a teenager can be troubling if there aren’t accessible ways to handle all the
swirling emotions and changes. Without access to these types of tools, depression
can take hold. Here are some obvious warning signs your teenager might have
depression:
• Challenging to concentrate
• Extreme fatigue
• Prolonged hostility
• Withdrawn and anti-social
• Marked changes in eating patterns
• Inability to rest or sleep
• Extended sadness
• Proclamations of suicide
• Obsession with death
• Agitation
• Lack of motivation

Pressures of life are always present, whether for a child, teen, young adult, adult or
elderly. This is life. While children cannot recognize pressures as such and adults
can recognize and handle pressures, teens and young adults can recognize pressures
but cannot always effectively handle them. Why some troubled teens and problem
young adults cannot handle pressures that allow them to live fully and free of
depression remains mysterious. Armed with the ability to understand the warning
signs of teen depression can lead to specialized and necessary care.

As a parent, caregiver, teacher, coach or instructor of teens, it is imperative that
you are aware of the warning signs of teen depression. It is too easy to disregard
behavior as “teens being teens.” Observe your teen, take notes, get help. Neither you
nor your teen needs to suffer through the teenage years in pain and distance.

Here are just some ideas for what you can do if your teenager shows signs or
symptoms of teenager depression:
• Be present: Let your teen know you are available to them. An unconditional
offer is best received. Asking a myriad of suspicious questions will build
walls, not create a safe space for opening up. Allow your teen to open up on
their terms and on their timeline, not yours.
• Stay present: Do not give up. Opening up hurts because vulnerability can be
scary, so a teen may not be so willing to give of himself or herself right away.
Be a gentle, but constant reminder you are there for them.
• Listen. Listen. Listen: Do lots of listening and less talking. Are there
situations or times or days when your teen is more open? Create more space
for them to open up and then refrain from lots of questions and instead listen
and hear what they share.
• Acknowledge: Even if what your troubled teen is sharing seems futile or
ridiculous to you, it is likely worrisome and grating on them. Let them know
you are listening. Reflect what they say so they, too, can hear themselves.
It shows you take their feelings seriously and that you acknowledge and
appreciate their willingness to open up.

Depression isn’t a catch phrase for teens—it is a real illness that, left untreated,
can be damaging. If you see the signs and you’re doing the work of a caring
adult, then take the step, with your teen, and seek professional help to screen for
depression.

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