Teen depression or normal mood swings?

Jul 15, 2010 at 1:45 p.m. ET

Is your teen feeling blue or could it be something more? One writer opens up about her own struggle with depression and what finally pushed her to get the help she needed. She also spoke with experts to find out the signs and symptoms of depression teens and when parents should consider professional treatment.

Depressed teen

My story

In my senior year of high school I started going to bed wishing that I would just not wake up in the morning and felt down all the time. Things that I had worried about only a little or not all before suddenly became huge concerns. It was like I no longer had the ability to be happy.

The summer after graduation my depression and anxiety became even worse. I hardly left my house the entire summer. Eventually my parents noticed that there was something wrong. They insisted I go to a doctor, but didn't make me get counseling.

I tried to pretend that everything was better for my parents benefit, but the stress of the move to college in the fall was extremely hard on me. Eventually, since I had less time to be alone and think about things, I felt somewhat better. But my problems with depression and anxiety were far from over. I didn't want get help because I thought no one would understand. I was afraid they would think that I was crazy and I didn't want anyone else to look at me differently or judge me.

During the summer after my sophomore year of college I was plunged into the deepest depression I had ever experienced. I cried myself to sleep every night and even thought about suicide. I knew that I was at the end of my rope. I had to get help.

I started seeing a therapist that I discussed all of the craziness that was going on inside my head and body with. I learned that the depression wasn't my fault; it was caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain, and probably contributed to by a family history of depression. The same feelings that made me feel like I was going crazy actually were similar to ones experienced by thousands of other people in the world suffering from clinical depression and anxiety disorders.

Signs your teen is depressed

As parents it is important to be on the look-out for signs that your child or teen may be suffering from depression. Your child may be too embarrassed to seek out help on their own, like I was, or not even know what to do with the emotions that they are experiencing.

Symptoms to watch out for:

  • Are they less social and spending more time alone in their room?
  • Are their grade suffering or are they having troubling concentrating in class and on homework?
  • Are they moody, pessimistic and irritable consistently, instead of just in difficult situations?
  • Do they have suicidal thoughts or participate in self harming behaviors such as cutting?
  • Do they seem to be tired all the time and sleeping more or less then usual?
  • Are they avoiding activities and hobbies that they used to enjoy?
  • Are they having feelings of guilt and worthlessness?

First Steps to Take:

  1. Take your child or teen's feelings seriously.
  2. Normalize depression so your child or teen doesn't feel like they are alone or like something is wrong with them. Studies have shown that 1 out of 3 children suffer from depression.
  3. Handle it sensitively. Your child or teen may feel ambushed if forced into therapy or other treatment options. Discuss every step of the process with them in advance.
  4. Make an appointment with your child's pediatrician.

Child psychologist and author of Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking Tamar Chansky says, "consult your child's pediatrician to insure that there is nothing physically wrong-- sleep deprivation, thyroid problem, poor diet or excessive weight loss. The pediatrician can then refer parents to an appropriate child psychologist who specializes in cognitive-behavior therapy, the treatment of choice for depression. Medication can be prescribed if needed by the pediatrician or a psychiatrist."

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