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Is Your Child Depressed?

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

A recent NPR article explored the alarming rising suicide rates, particularly among young adolescent girls who are entering puberty and experiencing depression at increasingly earlier ages.

One researcher observed, “it’s usually been referred to as the storm-and-stress period of life because there’s just a lot of change happening all at one time.”

Parents of teenagers can have difficulty differentiating normal teen separation behavior from depression. Here’s how you can do this. Below are two lists of behaviors: one shows symptoms of depression (in teens and younger children) and the other shows “normal” teen behavior.

If your child had more than 5 of the symptoms in the depression column for longer than two weeks, he may be depressed and need help.

Depression Symptoms:

1. Irritable or depressed mood

2. Decreased interest or pleasure in normal every day activities

3. Weight loss when not dieting or sudden weight gain

4. Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)

5. Psychomotor agitation or retardation (the body is hyperactive or very slow compared to normal)

6. Fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, or a sense of inappropriate guilt

7. Decreased ability to think, concentrate or increased indecisiveness

8. Recurrent thoughts of suicide or death

Kids who have a family history of depression or who have prior bouts of depression are at increased risk of getting depression.

Normal teen separation behavior occurs with the following behaviors:

1. Irritability that comes and goes or that is directed at only one person

2. Desire to spend time alone in room for a few hours per day, alternating with engagement with family

3. Increased sleep

4. Staying up at night more than usual

5. Fatigue that will go away if child increases sleep on weekends

6. Desire to exclude parents from personal conversations

7. Doing things that they know parents disagree with behind their backs

8. Speaks contrary to parents and is argumentative

The main difference between depression and normal teen behavior is the severity and length of the symptoms.

All teens can be irritable but this should come and go and alternate with nice behavior. Depressed teens can’t “snap out of” bad behavior. Also, all teens need more sleep and are tired a lot but once they have a chance to catch up on sleep, the fatigue goes away. Fatigue doesn’t go away if a teen is depressed.

Having someone come right out and ask won’t make them depressed and many times teens feel relief when someone recognizes that they are struggling.

If your teen has 5 or more of the depression symptoms or if your gut tells you that they might be depressed, take them to your internist or pediatrician.

They are very familiar with depression and should be more than willing to help your teen get back on track.

If your child or someone you love is exhibiting any of the risk factors and warning signs of suicide, you should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Your call will be routed to the Lifeline center nearest to your area code. More information is available on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website.

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Feeling a a bit uneasy about having "the talk" with your son or daughter?
Dr. Meeker is here to help! “How to Talk to Your Kids about Puberty & Sex (ages 8-18)” is her most comprehensive course ever and she’ll equip you to have that conversation with knowledge, confidence and sensitivity. Check it out!

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