Don’t Wonder, Find Out. Here’s How
The tragic death of Robin Williams in 2014 unnerved many Americans. Sure, we are sad to lose a talented man but on a deeper level, those who have loved ones struggling with sadness, irritability or who are just “not themselves” have wondered if those loved ones have depression. We are frightened because we don’t want to miss any cry for help from one who is struggling because depression is a very serious illness.
A recent NPR article explored the alarming rising suicide rates, particularly among young adolescent girls who are entering puberty and experiencing depression at increasingly earlier ages. One researcher observed, “it’s usually been referred to as the storm-and-stress period of life because there’s just a lot of change happening all at one time,”
Parents of teenagers can have difficulty differentiating normal teen separation behavior from depression. Here’s how you can do this. Below are two lists of behaviors: one shows symptoms of depression (in teens and younger children) and the other shows “normal” teen behavior. If your child had more than 5 of the symptoms in the depression column for longer than two weeks, he may be depressed and need help.
- Irritable or depressed mood
- Decreased interest or pleasure in normal every day activities
- Weight loss when not dieting or sudden weight gain
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation (body is hyperactive or very slow compared to normal)
- Fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, or a sense of inappropriate guilt
- Decreased ability to think, concentrate or increased indecisiveness
- Recurrent thoughts of suicide or death
Kids who have a family history of depression or who have prior bouts of depression are at increased risk for getting depression.
Normal teen separation behavior occurs with the following behaviors
- Irritability that comes and goes or that is directed at only on person
- Desire to spend time alone in room for a few hours per day, alternating with engagement with family
- Increased sleep
- Staying up at night more than usual
- Fatigue that will go away if child increases sleep on weekends
- Desire to exclude parents from personal conversations
- Doing things that they knows parents disagree with behind their backs
- Speaks contrary to parents and is argumentative
The main difference between depression and normal teen behavior is the severity and length of the symptoms. All teens can be irritable but this should come and go and alternate with nice behavior. Depressed teens can’t “snap out of” bad behavior. Also, all teens need more sleep and are tired a lot but once they have a chance to catch up on sleep, the fatigue goes away. Fatigue doesn’t go away if a teen is depressed.
If you suspect that a teen is depressed, simply ask them.
Having someone come right out and ask won’t make them depressed and many times teens feel relief when someone recognizes that they are struggling.
If your teen has 5 or more of the depression symptoms or if your gut tells you that they might be depressed, take them to your internist or pediatrician. They are very familiar with depression and should be more than willing to help your teen get back on track.
If your child or someone you love is exhibiting any of the risk factors and warning signs of suicide, you should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Your call will be routed to the Lifeline center nearest to your area code. More information is available on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website.
By Meg Meeker, MD