Is your teen depressed?

August 24, 2010 By Michael Balkunas, M.D.

Teen depression is on the rise and according to Mental Health America, one in five teens is suffering from clinical depression. Adolescent angst, peer pressure, school difficulties, substance abuse, a family history of depression and household tension can make some teens vulnerable to the disease. Unfortunately, because teen depression is easily mistaken for an identity crisis or an “attitude” problem, it often goes ignored.

Know the signs
Major life events, such as a recent divorce, a move or the death of a loved one, can trigger depression. A certain adjustment period is necessary, but if abnormal behavior persists for more than a few weeks, seek help for your child. Besides feeling sad and lonely, your teen may:

• have trouble falling asleep or wake up too early
• experience a change in eating habits
• no longer socialize with friends
• lose interest in favorite hobbies and activities
• stop doing homework
• cry excessively
• have headaches, stomachaches or other physical complaints
• have trouble paying attention in class
Adolescents may hide their depression by acting out. Drinking, drugs and skipping school may seem like normal teenage rebellion, but in fact they are major red flags. Pay attention to your teenager's changes in behavior. If suicide is ever mentioned—even as a joke—get help immediately. Even if depression appears to be lifting, it often returns, and psychotherapy and/or drug therapy may be necessary.

Say the right thing
Being around a child who is depressed may put you at a loss for words. These phrases may offer some comfort:

• You are important to me.
• I'm not going to leave you.
• I love you.
• I am here for you.
• Do you want a hug?
• If you need to talk, I'm here.
Remember, depression can be a life-threatening illness. If you think your child is depressed, don't wait to seek treatment.

Michael Balkunas, M.D., is chief of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.