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Depression is a serious but common mental illness that affects many people, including teenagers. 

There are many misconceptions about teen depression, including that it doesn’t happen in teens because they’re just moody or hormonal. However, these feelings can be debilitating and cause severe impairment to the teen’s day-to-day routine.

This blog post will cover what you should look for if you think your teenager might have depression so you can help them get treatment before they develop more serious issues like suicidal ideation or self-harming behaviors. Professional treatment, possibly including medication, is crucial and necessary, just as it would be with any other medical condition.

Title Graphic for blog post from Lexington, SC blog, Lexington Mommy, Teen Depression: Misconceptions, Symptoms and Actions to Consider. Teen sitting, leaning on wall.

Teen Depression: More Than Just Moodiness

Depression can be difficult to spot because there are different types of the condition and not all symptoms will show up at once. Symptoms may also change over time depending on what stage the person is experiencing with their depression along with other circumstances in life. And let’s be honest, teens aren’t always rainbows and butterflies as they navigate this season of life. It can be hard to tell what’s “normal” teen emotions and what needs extra support and treatment. The most common symptoms of teen depression are sadness, anxiety, irritability and anger issues. These feelings can come on suddenly or gradually over time and affect every aspect of your teen’s life.

There is zero harm in talking to a mental health professional to get some insight or an evaluation.

It is always difficult to see our children struggle. As parents, we want nothing more than to protect our kids from any and all pain. Unfortunately, that’s not possible. The best thing we can do is support them through their struggles and make sure they know we are here for them no matter what. This may mean reserving judgment (or keeping it in our heads) at times.

You may be surprised at the number of teenagers who suffer from depression every year- it affects about one in eight teens! However, despite the large number of adolescents who experience depression each year, many adults don’t recognize the symptoms or take action when confronted with these warning signs. It’s important to pay close attention because untreated depression can lead to other mental health issues such as anxiety disorders or substance abuse problems later on in life. There is no shame is seeking professional help.

Some misconceptions about what depression looks like in teens

Depression is a mental illness that presents itself in many forms, but it can be difficult to detect – especially in teens. In teenagers, the signs are often more subtle and can be difficult to recognize. To help parents identify depression in their teens, this article will go over common misconceptions about depression and discuss what you should look for if you suspect your teen might be depressed.

You may think it’s normal to be sad, everyone is sad sometimes.

It’s not uncommon for teenagers to feel sad about things that happen in their lives. Between school, work, and family, there’s always some sort of emotional turmoil going on, right? But there are many differences between normal sadness and depression, which is why it can be so invalidating when someone says “everyone feels the same way” or “it’ll get better”.

If your teen thinks they may be depressed, don’t minimize their struggles by saying “everyone goes through that” – even if it’s something you experienced as a teen. Listen and be receptive to your teen’s thoughts and feelings. This will help create a closer bond between the two of you but will also help them on their mental health journey.

You may think your teen is spoiled, and you may be right.

There are many different ways to interpret the word “spoiled”. And we’re not saying it’s a bad thing to spoil your children.

Everyone has their own way of coping with life, and when someone’s style for handling things is to be angry or frustrated the whole time, it can look like they’re just being a spoiled brat. Your teenager may very well be spoiled. But if your teen isn’t able to do anything or be told “no” without having an attitude about it, that may be another sign that something more serious is going on.

The key here is not how emotionless your teen acts but rather what triggers them to get this way in the first place: teasing from peers, family arguments, unfair treatment at school, or a feeling of disconnection because no one understands what they are experiencing. Recognizing these patterns will help you know when depression might be influencing your teenager’s behavior.

Just because you give your child gifts and spoil them with love doesn’t mean that they won’t be depressed. Depression isn’t always caused by family or life problems, sometimes there’s stuff happening outside of your house. Sometimes it’s a chemical imbalance. The lesson here is: yes, even spoiled, well-loved kids can become depressed. It’s not your fault, or theirs, but it needs to be addressed early on so it doesn’t get worse.

Depression and laziness can present in similar fashions.

This is a big one for why it can be hard to spot depression in teens. Teenagers are going to be tired and/or lazy, it’s normal. When someone is showing signs of depression or other mental illnesses, it’s not safe to just tell them that they’re lazy and not experiencing problems. Narratives like this are harmful, not only to your teen’s mental well-being, but it can even ruin your relationship with them. Depression can make you physically and mentally drained. 

It’s hard to tell when a teenager is depressed.

Many people believe that they can spot the signs, that they can tell when someone is depressed. This is a common misconception because a mental illness is what’s felt on the inside, not what’s shown on the outside

Your teen was happy today, so you may think they can’t be depressed.

People with depression can still feel happiness sometimes; they can also pretend to be happy and excited. Comparing what you saw they felt versus what they’re telling you they felt is dangerous not only for their mental health but can ruin your chance at your teen trusting you.

You may think depression is just a normal part of being a teenager, but it’s not.

Many people feel that depression is just a part of being a teenager. This isn’t true! While it’s normal for teens to have emotions that are all over the place, it’s not normal for everyone to go through depression – especially not at the same age or around the same time. 

Teenagers aren’t alone in experiencing these feelings and they should know there are so many resources available to them like family, friends, and even professional help.

It’s typical for teenagers to be moody or irritable sometimes. There can be many things that can cause teenagers to have fast mood changes, including hormones and stress. Teenagers can still have depression or other mental illnesses aside from ‘normal’ teenage moodiness. Staying on top of the symptoms your teen is experiencing, as well as actually listening to the words that are coming out of their mouth, will help tremendously.

Teen depression looks different than adult depression.

Teenagers with depression may have different feelings and moods than other teenagers. They might feel like they don’t deserve anything good to happen in their life, or that nothing will ever get better. This is not the same as just being sad from a breakup for instance, which can change over time. This feeling of hopelessness is more than just feeling blue once in a while or over a specific situation (like not getting invited to prom).

Teenagers and adults have so many differences mentally and physically that their depression cannot look the same. Undermining a teenager’s mental illnesses because you think that they are different from adult signs isn’t going to work out for anyone. 

If you have concerns or aren’t sure, talk to a professional ASAP. Parenting is hard. Parenting teens is a different stage of hard. Again, there is no shame in depression and getting treatment for your child. If your child is experiencing depression or other mental illness, it’s also a good idea to speak to someone for yourself. You need support as well.

Resources to get started:

Lexington County Community Mental Health Center is dedicated to helping the residents of Lexington County by providing exceptional outpatient behavioral healthcare and promoting recovery.

Home | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357): SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

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