Michele Borba: Could Your Teen Be Depressed? Do You Know the Signs?

by | Aug 13, 2009 | The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

Michele Borba

REALITY CHECK: All teens can be irritable, want to be secretive, and appear and even act alien- like. But when should a parent worry—really worry about their child? Did you know that one in 12 teens suffered at least one episode of major depression in the last year? Of those, a full 60 percent are not getting treatment.

That question has caused many a sleepless night for moms and dads. The more you understand typical adolescent behavior and the signs of depression, the better you’ll be at tailoring your parenting to this “new tenant” of yours and getting your teen the help he or she may need.

I’m concerned that many parents are missing those crucial warning signs and too many of our teens are suffering needlessly from depression. Depression is a serious disease that affects approximately 2 million adolescents in the United States. Depression is treatable. I’m so concerned that I’ve partnered with Forest Laboratories to help educate parents about teen depression.

A recent survey of parents of adolescents (aged 13-17) found that parents are missing the symptoms of depression. Of parents who said they were at least somewhat knowledgeable about the symptoms of depression, 89 percent claimed they would be able to tell if their son or daughter was exhibiting symptoms. However, when asked to identify the symptoms, only 44 percent of parents were able to correctly identify the majority of them (5 out of 9).

1. Know your teen’s normal. Some teens are a bit moodier, restless, or private. Your job is to discover your adolescent’s typical everyday behavior. Tune in a bit closer because once you really know his personality and temperament, look for a marked change in what’s typical for your adolescent.

2. Get to know the signs of teen depression. Unfortunately there really is no clear-cut “warning list” as to when we should seek professional help for our sons and daughters. But there are a few signs that can be valuable clues that all is not well. The problem is most parents appear to be missing those crucial signs so here are a few things to be on the alert for. The truth is every teen is going to feel sad or be angry, but if you see a sudden change in your son or daughter’s usual behavior that lasts every day for at least two weeks then something is going on and you should look further into the cause or get help. In particular look for a depressed or irritable mood and excessive feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt.

  • Depressed mood. Is this energetic teen of yours suddenly lethargic? Does he sleep too much or not enough? Are you seeing a teen who is just sitting around and doesn’t have the mojo?
  • Pulls back from interests. Those things your teen used to love to do – basketball, yoga, reading, texting – he or she does no more. Your teen pulls back from his or her interests and withdraws from what you know he or she loves.
  • Irritability or marked behavior change. There’s a marked, sudden, or intense change in your teen’s behavior such as agitation, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt or trouble in school. Is your adolescent suddenly spending more and more alone time, appear sad or have a much tougher time concentrating?
  • Physical changes. Are you noticing a significant weight loss or weight gain? A big change in eating habits? Other people who know your child well have shared their concerns. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the comment. They might be seeing your teen in a different situation or group. Instead, ask for specifics. What exactly is the concern? How often do they see the behavior? How long has the behavior been going on? Enlist the help of those individuals who care about your teen and whose opinions you trust.

3. Get help! Yes, adolescent depression is serious but your teen does not have to suffer. Depression is a debilitating, yet a treatable illness. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved another treatment option for depression in adolescents. Talk therapy also offers promising results. And a government task force recently called for routine depression screening for all teens, not just those at high-risk for depression, so expect your doctor to ask questions.

There are serious consequences for not getting a diagnosis or treatment for a teen. If you ever have a feeling that something is wrong and that your teen may be suffering from depression, then please don’t wait. Pick up the phone and call your doctor. When it’s about your child’s well-being, nothing—absolutely nothing– is more important than peace of mind.


Get more Parenting Solutions by following Michele Borba  @MicheleBorba on Twitter or at https://micheleborba.com.

Portions of this article are adapted from Michele Borba’s latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass) which is available for order now: http://bit.ly/3N9cgY