I’m writing this blog today with a certain teenager in mind who I have been seeing for a little less than a year now. She is a beautiful and funny 14 year old girl who has happened to experienced some very difficult challenges in her life in the last year that most of us cannot imagine. Lately her signs of deepening depression have been very obvious to me- isolating from friends and family, sullen mood, lack of motivation, irritability, and so on. While having a serious discussion of my observations with her, we couldn’t help but laugh a little when I pointed out how I felt I could even tell her level of depression based on her shoes. Months ago she was wearing nice boots to school, then she went to very casual sandles, and then to house shoes. Most recently, her face was slightly brighter and she had on tennis shoes. In what appeared to be her lowest moments, along with all the other signs, my client was wearing over-sized, tattered house slippers to school without even a second thought. She just didn’t care about her shoes, or anything else for that matter.
Please don’t misinterpret the point of this story. I am not saying that we can identify depression based on shoes. Absolutely not! The point is, I noticed a pattern. Her shoes and attire were one of many patterns that were becoming obvious to me that her mood was changing.
Knowing when your teenager is depressed can be be difficult for many parents. I mean, just the word “teenager” can be analogous to “sullen” and “moody.” What sticks in my mind about this situation the most is that her deepening depression is probably not so obvious to her family, friends, or teachers. How is one to know when to seek help for a teenager? When are they being a typical moody, irritable, and “always going through some kind of phase” teenager?
My “advice” to parents is first to pay attention to your kids. Get to know their interests, friends, study habits, and routine. This seems to be an obvious first piece of advice, but with our busy lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of life. Be sure that you are spending quality, non-tv, individual time with your children. This time will allow you an opportunity to stay in tune with what is happening in their emotional and social lives, and this will be key in noticing patterns of depression and other mental health concerns should they become an issue.
If you notice something is not right, follow your instincts as a parent. For instance, maybe they are spending more time alone when they used to play ball after school, or they are extremely irritable all the time. Many times, parents may have a feeling something is not right, but they try so hard not to overreact or medal in their teen’s life. Pay attention to your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, ask how they are doing, make a list of your concerns, and get a professional’s opinion (pediatrician or counselor) if you still feel something is not right. Also take note that someone who is depressed may not realize they are depressed until it is too deep.
I have mentioned some signs of depression above, but here is a short list:
- Moody and Irritable most of the time
- Loss or Gain in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
- Self-defeating comments or other indications of low self-esteem
- Failing, truency, or behavior problems in school
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Mention of self-harm or suicide (DEFINITELY SEEK HELP!)
For more information on depression, here are some great resources: