Teenage years involve hormonal changes that mean a bit of moodiness is par for the course. How can you know when it’s gone from normal teen highs and lows to depression, anxiety, or worse?
1. Listen to what your teen is (and isn’t) saying.
A certain amount of drama is normal for many teens. Things like a bad hair day or being late for something are ‘the end of the world’. But if your teen is usually expressive and dramatic yet over the last few weeks has been quiet and reserved, pay attention. Depression causes marked and prolonged changes in behaviour and personality. And take any comment, however casual, about wanting to hurt themselves or die seriously.
2. Note any major changes in hobbies, interests, and social life.
Depression causes a loss of interest in what we once loved. Of course teens change their interests often as they figure out their adult identity. But look for big changes that seem out of character. A sociable teen suddenly staying home in their room, an athletic teen quitting the track team, a studious teen leeting their grades drop. An increase in habits of distraction can also be a sign of depression, such as spending hours with video games over seeing friends.
3. Monitor sleeping and eating habits.
Teens tend to sleep more and eat more as their body changes and adjusts. But look out for teens sleeping less, being tired all the time, or eating less. Depression can affect appetite and energy levels. And if a teen is suddenly wanting to control their eating it can be a sign of an eating disorder.
4. Keep an eye out for self-harm.
Self-harm is a major sign of depression and anxiety in teens. It can manifest in as cutting, scratching, or picking at their skin. Or burning themselves, punching things, hitting their body against things like their head to a wall, or pulling out their hair.
5. Consider if they are developing addictions.
Many teens experiment with alcohol and ‘soft’ drugs. But if you notice your teen seems increasingly out of it, or suspect that they are developing a real habit, it might be they are using alcohol and drugs to avoid overwhelming feelings and anxieties and really need some support.
6. Ask your teen if he or she would like counselling.
There is nothing wrong with asking your teen directly if they want to discuss mental health. Of course you will need to communicate in an open, blame-free way. If you and you teen can’t have a calm conversation these days, just let them know that you are happy to talk if they ever want to. Assure them that if they ever wanted to see a counsellor, you are willing to help make that happen.