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Recognize teen depression

A father and his teenage son walk and talk near a pond.

Jan. 20, 2022—The pandemic has been hard on everyone. That's especially true for teenagers, whose worlds changed overnight. It's no wonder that there's been a rise in depression and stress for these kids.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), mental health emergencies for children ages 12 to 17 jumped 31% in 2020. The increase in emergencies continued in 2021. AAP reports that in early 2021, emergency room visits for possible suicide attempts increased by more than 50% among girls ages 12 to 17, compared to the same period in 2019.

Your child might change a lot during the teen years. It can be hard to know which behaviors are normal and which are red flags. Take time to talk to your teen about their feelings, and remember to listen. This information from AAP, HelpGuide and other experts can help you recognize depression early—and give you the tools to help your child cope.

Know the signs of depression

Teenagers are known for being moody. But depression is more than a mood. It can affect every area of your child's life. And it might not look like you'd expect. Here are some of the common signs of depression in teens.

Emotional changes:

  • Increased irritability, grumpiness and frustration.
  • Hopelessness.
  • Strong sensitivity to criticism.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Lack of interest in activities your child used to enjoy.

Behavioral changes:

  • More conflicts with friends or family.
  • Withdrawal from friends and social activities, including texting and video chatting.
  • Excessive use of smartphones or the internet.
  • Difficulties with memory, thinking or concentration.
  • Falling grades or less interest in schoolwork.
  • Reckless or risky behavior, such as drug or alcohol use, unsafe sex, or running away.
  • Talking about or focusing on suicide or death.

Physical changes:

  • Unexplained aches and pains.
  • Different sleep patterns, from sleeping all the time to insomnia.
  • Sudden changes in eating habits, such as never being hungry, eating all the time, and losing or gaining weight.
  • Poor personal hygiene.

If these signs sound familiar, the good news is that depression is treatable. If you think your child might be depressed, you can take steps to help them cope.

How you can help

  • Just listen. Avoid lecturing, criticizing or judging if they open up to you.
  • Be gentle but persistent. And trust your instincts. If your teen shuts you out, don't give up. Let them know you are concerned and are ready to listen when they need you to.
  • Take their feelings seriously. It may be tempting to brush off their concerns as silly or irrational, but their emotions are real and important.

Reach out

Depression is highly treatable. If you suspect your child is dealing with depression or another mental health concern, let your child's doctor know. They can connect you to the resources and treatment your child needs.

In particular, if you believe your child is having thoughts of suicide, don't wait. Call 911 if your child is in immediate danger. Or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 for advice and support.

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