Teen Depression: Moodiness or Something more?
Today, children and adolescents face an abundance of issues that leave them vulnerable to stress and depression. Now more than ever, we must pay special attention to their emotional moods and changes. According to the National Institute of Health, depression is characterized by a prolonged period of sadness, feeling “low,” or having sentiments of hopelessness. Depression is a serious medical condition that affects all age groups, including young children.
Depression manifests through a variety of symptoms and it is important for adults to be able to identify the potential tell-tale signs. Symptoms may include changes in sleep patterns and appetite; unusual difficulty paying attention or concentrating; frequent muscle aches and pains; digestive problems that do not subside with treatment; sudden loss of interest in previously desired activities, and in extreme cases, thoughts of suicide.
As a school psychologist, I frequently counsel children battling the darkness of depression, and experience has shown me that depression can wear many faces. Some children internalize their emotions and are visibly depressed and withdrawn.
However an even larger percentage of children exhibit depression by externalizing behaviors. These children often appear angry and experience extreme difficulty establishing and maintaining positive relationships with others. These students may exhibit physical aggression and frequent school suspensions are not uncommon. When this occurs, children are usually attempting to communicate frustrations and emotions that they may not be able to fully understand themselves. “Acting out” can serve as the most effective method of gaining others’ attention and seeking understanding during periods of confusion and loss of inner control.
The severity of depression will differ with respect to the frequency and duration of symptoms. However, any young person experiencing depression may require support and assistance in coming to grips with his or her emotions and developmental changes. Fortunately, there are vast resources available in communities to assist parents who are helping their children deal with depression.
First and foremost, children and adolescents battling depression need a strong support system at home, in school and within the community. Knowing they are not alone will help them to better cope with depression. If professional therapeutic services are required, I recommend requesting a referral from your child’s pediatrician; collaborating with the school psychologist or social worker; contacting the psychological services center at nearby colleges and universities; or obtaining a referral from a respected and trusted faith-based organization. Additionally, your health insurance company can suggest providers within your network.
Once a good treatment plan is established for your child, remain involved with the clinician who will become a partner for you in helping your child and family return to its former state.
To find help or information, contact Mental Health America by calling (800) 969-6642 or visit www.nmha.org.