Being a kid isn’t easy business. Children 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.
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 Shana Schuler, PhD, ABPP, a pediatric psychologist in Akron Children’s NeuroDevelopmental Science Center. “With the added stress of bullying, social media and uncertainty heightened since the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise we’ve seen a rise in anxiety and depression in kids.”
According to a Pew Research Center analysis, 13% of kids aged 12-17 in this country reported experiencing at least one major depressive episode in 2017, up from 8 percent in 2007. In addition, pediatric suicide attempts increased by 163% from 2009 to 2019, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, these rates increased by more than 25%, according to the National Institutes of Health.
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 romantic partner.
For some teens, it can start without an outside influence. Depression and other mental illnesses tend to run in families.
“It’s important to check in often with your child to find out how he is feeling and coping with stressors,” said Dr. Schuler. “Every child gets sad and down occasionally. It’s a normal part of life. The question is when should parents be worried?”
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, 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.
“Another strong sign it could be more than ‘teenage blues’ is if your child is feeling down most of the day for more than 2 weeks and is withdrawing from social relationships and activities he once enjoyed,” said Dr. Schuler.
A teen who’s sad or moody usually will still go out with friends or participate in a favorite activity. One who is depressed most often 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 are key to helping your child overcome these issues,” said Dr. Schuler. “With help from a mental health professional, kids can begin labeling their emotions and developing coping strategies to reduce symptoms. However, delayed treatment often exacerbates anxiety, causing symptoms to get worse and creating a longer-term problem.”
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.