A teenager deep in thought sits in a park.

Confronting teen depression in Georgia

SEP 24, 2018
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Whether elated or upset, teens tend to experience a wide range of emotions. But if the teen you love seems stuck in a period of prolonged sadness, irritation, or anger, it may be time to consider if they’re depressed.

 

Mood swing or depression?

 

Feeling upset or down occasionally is, of course, normal. But depression in teens is different – often marked by such warning signs as:

 

  • Feeling hopeless or empty inside
  • Losing interest in school, hobbies, or friends
  • A change in appetite, causing them to significantly gain or lose weight
  • Altered sleeping patterns – leading to extreme fatigue or restlessness
  • Talk of feeling worthless or bad about themselves
  • An interest in or obsession with the topics of death and dying

“They become much more withdrawn — staying in their room, not wanting to get out of bed,” says Chaundrissa Smith, PhD, a Georgia psychologist who specializes in working with children, adolescents, and families.

 

At the same time, teen depression can be marked by what Dr. Smith refers to as an “excessive level of irritability,” including verbal aggression when it’s not merited. “There’s this constant exaggerated response to everything,” she explains, for example, “if someone steps on your toe, and you go off — even though everyone realizes it was an accident.”

 

Take action

 

If you suspect your teen is struggling with depression:

 

  • Talk to them. Let them know you care and want to help.
  • Don’t assume that an uptick in their moodiness is “just a phase.” Try to see past disruptive behavior — it might be a cry for help.
  • Have your child evaluated by a professional — Kaiser Permanente offers depression screenings and treatment through its Mental Health and Wellness Department. Even primary care doctors can diagnose depression and recommend treatment or medication.

The important thing is to intervene as soon as possible. “Sometimes parents don’t want to ask their kids about their thoughts — especially when it comes to thoughts about suicide,” Dr. Smith says. “They’re afraid of the answer.”

 

Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson agrees that this is part of the problem. “It’s all around us, but nobody wants to talk about it,” he said in a recent interview.

 

Protect your teen

 

While suicide isn’t common, teenagers are at high risk. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people ages 15 to 24. And it’s “the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19,” Mr. Tyson shared in his 2018 SXSW presentation, Reconnecting the Mind to the Body.

 

But there are ways for loved ones to reduce this risk. If you suspect a teen you care about may be having thoughts of suicide, it’s important to ask them about it directly. And don’t avoid using the word “suicide.” If someone is truly suicidal, they can find great relief in sharing how they really feel.

 

Once you get your teen talking:

 

  • Reassure them that suicidal thoughts are common and do not need to be acted upon.
  • Explain that the way they are feeling probably stems from an underlying mental health condition that they can get treatment for — and recover from. According to Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the mental health of all Americans, 8 in 10 people treated for depression improve.

Parents who are seriously worried about a depressed teenager can also take precautions around the house — like locking up potentially lethal medications and removing all guns, including hunting rifles. And remember that resources are available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911 if someone you know is thinking of hurting themselves or has suicidal thoughts.

 

Find your words

 

For more ways to talk to your teen about depression — and foster a culture of acceptance and support — visit findyourwords.org.

 

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