Being a kid isn’t easy business. Adolescents and teens face new challenges and social pressures often. Not to mention, their growing bodies are changing rapidly, which may cause feelings of sadness or frustration due to the hormonal changes associated with puberty.
Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic, which has cancelled many of our kids’ favorite summer pastimes and vacation plans, and has changed the way they socialize with friends.
With all of these stressors on your child’s life, it can be difficult to tell whether he’s suffering from typical teenage blues or something more.
“Stress is the main factor when it comes to anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Steven Jewell, director of Akron Children’s Division of Pediatric Psychiatry and Psychology. “Take anyone and put them under enough stress and they’re going to get sick in response to it.”
In this day and age, anxiety and depression are not uncommon for adolescents and teens. In 2017, 13 percent of kids aged 12-17 in this country reported experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the last year, up from 8 percent in 2007, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
Depression can occur at any age, but teens can be more susceptible. Significant life-changing events can trigger depression, such as the death of a loved one, a parents’ divorce, a move to a new area or even a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend.
For some teens, it can start without an outside influence. Depression and other mental illnesses tend to run in families.
“It’s crucial to know the significance of your child’s sadness because depression can potentially be a fatal illness — suicide has become prevalent in the last 5 to 10 years,” said Dr. Jewell. “Every child gets depressed occasionally. It’s a normal part of life. The question is when should I be worried?”
Typical teenage blues vs. depression
A good rule of thumb to determine whether a child is suffering from typical teenage moodiness or something more is to look at how they’re feeling is affecting daily functioning in school, and peer and family relationships.
If you notice a drop in your child’s grades, or he stopped hanging out with his good buddies or is now spending most of his time in his room away from the family, there’s cause for concern.
“If the depression reaches that level of significant dysfunction in 1 or 2 of these areas or exhibits multiple warning signs, it could be a disorder and it’s best to seek help,” said Dr. Jewell. “If your child is moody and is feeling down, but they are still doing what they normally would do on a daily basis, it’s probably just a bad mood.”
A teen who’s sad or moody will still enjoy going out with friends or a favorite activity. One who is depressed won’t.
Other warning signs of depression include:
- Increased or persistent irritability
- Changes in sleep habits or appetite
- Persistent helpless or hopeless attitude
- Gloomy moods that continue for 2 weeks without improvement
- Lack of motivation or energy
- Abrupt changes in behavior, including withdrawal from activities or extreme hyperactivity
- Dramatic changes in grooming
- Low self-esteem or suicidal thoughts
- Spending more time alone than usual
- Unusually erratic or impulsive behavior
- Fits of crying
What parents can do to help
Talk to your child about what’s going on in his life, without making him feel there’s something wrong with him or that he’s in trouble. Be supportive and honest, and keep the lines of communication open.
If you think your child may be suffering from anxiety or depression, don’t wait to get help. Seeking treatment at the first sign of a problem can be more effective and prevent problems later in a child’s life.
It’s best to start with your child’s pediatrician. Most pediatricians are sensitive to mental issues and have the screening tools to identify depression. They also have the resources to best refer your child, if necessary.
“Early diagnosis and treatment can help your child overcome these issues,” said Dr. Jewell. “We can also help your child develop the coping skills he needs to face life’s challenges now and through adulthood.”
If you think your child may be suffering from anxiety or depression, call our appointment center at 330-543-2778. Many of our primary care offices have psychologists on-site.
Learn about the steps Akron Children’s Hospital is taking to keep you and your family safe during the pandemic.