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Maybe Your Teen Isn’t Being ‘Moody’ But Is Actually Depressed!

Posted: March 30, 2021

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Teenage depression is a scary and alarming reality for a lot of us. Let me tell you how to spot it and what you can do about it.

Trigger warning: This post mentions depression, self-harm and suicide ideation which may be triggering to survivors and certain audiences.

If my daughter is hurt, my immediate reaction would be to administer first aid. In case of a minor cut, I will clean the wound and tie a bandage. If it’s something that requires a doctor’s intervention, I will rush her to the hospital.

But what happens when there are wounds which I cannot see? Pain which she feels but is a stranger to the world?

I shudder at these thoughts, but I felt them recently. Let me tell you about the incident that triggered these thoughts.

About a month ago, a friend’s daughter ran away from home. This was a kid who was the same age as my daughter – 15-years-old. After a frantic search, the girl was found. However, the few hours undoubtedly were traumatic for not just the girl and her parents but other relatives and friends too.

We later found out that this child was depressed and unfortunately, none of us was really aware of it. Not her parents, siblings, friends or teachers knew about it. All of this was alarming for all of us. And as a mother to a tween and a teen, it instantly sent me into panic mode.

Teenage depression is a reality for many

I keyed in a few words into good old Google and all the information it threw at me, scared and astonished me further. Here are some of the things I found out –

  • Globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.
  • One in four children in the age group of 13-15 years in India suffers from depression.
  • Teenage depression is more than just sadness or moodiness – it is a serious mental health disorder.
  • Half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age, but most cases are undetected and untreated
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15 to 19-year-olds.
  • Every 100 minutes a teen takes their own life! Can you believe that? A teen dying in some part of the world in less than the duration of a movie.

Depression (major depressive disorder) is a medical illness that can interfere with your ability to handle your daily activities. These include sleeping, eating, or managing your schoolwork.

It is common, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. However, it is also important to remember, depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. And it can not be overcome with willpower alone. Most people with depression need treatment, therapy and some times even medication to get better.

The adolescence phase is a unique and crucial stage of life. It is a stage which is setting the foundations for their adult life. No doubt it’s also a stressful and confusing phase, with children facing physical, mental and emotional changes. And all the more for Generation Z, whose experiences are much too different from that of their previous generations.

So how to spot the red flags?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, here are a few signs to watch out for. Change in the sleep pattern. This could mean lack of sleep or sleeping long hours and sleep in the day. The other change would be in their eating habits – either completely losing interest in eating or over-eating.

Another sign to watch out for is the constant feeling of sadness, guilt, helplessness, worthless, empty or even numbness. They may even have difficulties in making simple every-day decisions or have problems with memory. And might have trouble concentrating on their studies and focussing

Rebellious behaviour that leads to arguments is yet another sign you need to look out for. The teen or tween may also have suicidal thoughts and those of self-harm – these are things you need to look out for very carefully.

While all these may look like ‘normal’ teen behaviours and we may ignore it as ‘teen drama,’ it doesn’t hurt to probe a little, but with caution. There could be a million and one issues bothering the child – studies, peer pressure, bullying, body shaming.

Unknown to us, our child may be dealing with issues way beyond their age. And with a lack of a person to open up to, it manifests into deeper psychological problems. According to the NHS (National Health Service, UK) whatever is causing the problem, take it seriously. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it could be a major problem for your child.

How to help your child tide over this difficult phase?

As I researched for some more information on how to tackle this, the one piece of advice that I uniformly found was the emphasis on physical health and emotional well-being. Here are some of the pointers I gained –

Physical health and wellbeing

A lot of people do say that poor health can foster depressive thoughts. As parents, we can tackle this issue by setting examples by taking the lead instead of telling the child to eat healthily. Healthy food and drink choices are the first steps towards good physical health.

Regular physical activity helps improve your child’s mental health. It can be as simple as taking a ten-minute walk every day to start the day with. Meanwhile, good quality sleep is just as essential. Relaxing music, not napping during the day time and putting away all electronic gadgets does help in achieving a good night’s rest.

Relationships, feelings and quality time

Strong interpersonal relationships are vital for a young person’s mental health. A sense of belonging to a family and a set of friends can help protect teenagers from certain mental health issues.

Similarly, spending quality time with our children goes a long way in building a powerful bond. Being supportive is also important. We should encourage them to spend time with friends and relatives they are comfortable with. Being in a virtual world all the time limits social interactions.

If the child has trouble talking about feelings, they can write them down in a diary or journal. Sometimes even adults find it easier to write things down than say them aloud. Our focus should be on listening to our children and avoid being judgmental.

We know we should do all this as parents, but unfortunately fail to act until the situation demands us to.

As my friend said, ‘I didn’t know these were signs of depression – I just thought she was throwing tantrums. And blamed them on teen hormones. Wish I had been more observant and patient.’

Thankfully, my friend was lucky, and she is getting a second chance to connect with her daughter. Let’s ensure we keep our communication doors always open and don’t wait for the dreaded second chance.

Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Angrezi Medium

Editor’s Note: These views are purely personal to the writer and are for cases that aren’t extreme. If you think your or someone you know is suffering from depression or any mental health issues, please make sure to consult a therapist or a doctor. 

If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call. 

Aasra, Mumbai: 022 27546669

Sneha, Chennai: 044 2464 0050

Lifeline, Kolkata: 033 2474 4704

Sahai, Bangalore: 080 25497777

Roshni, Hyderabad: 040 66202000, 040 66202001

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