Changes occur throughout life, but those that accompany adolescence and puberty are dramatic changes in physical appearance, hormones, emotions and social pressures. During these growing pains and pressures, a certain amount of moodiness and acting out is to be expected. As a result, it is easy to miss the signs of a more severe problem, such as depression.

Heidi Pritzl

Family history is an important risk factor due to both inherited factors and family environment. Having a parent who has had depression increases an adolescent’s risk. Also at elevated risk are teens who have suffered a major injury or have been exposed to traumatic or stressful events, such as poverty, physical or sexual abuse or the death of a family member or close friend.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, parents who tend to think of depression solely in terms of sadness, are likely to miss the signs, which may differ from those of adults.

Irritability, anger and hostility are core symptoms, often more important than depressed mood among adolescents. These may be accompanied by behavioral problems, substance abuse and refusal to attend school, or a decline in academic performance.

Withdrawal from family and friends. All teens want and need privacy, but an adolescent who regularly retreats to her room after school and, except for meals, stays there for the rest of the evening may be showing signs of depression.

Changes in eating and sleeping habits can be expected during adolescence. Extreme changes, though, such as loss of interest in food or compulsive overeating, are symptoms.

Loss of interest in activities that used to bring pleasure is a key symptom of depression at any age. Other possible signs include persistent fatigue, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, unexplained aches and pains and frequent crying.

It is important to note not just the symptoms themselves but how long they have been going on, how severe they are and how much the individual is deviating from his or her usual way of being.

If you see the signs, do not ignore them. Left untreated, depressive symptoms can become increasingly severe. Talking to a child about depression should not be a confrontation but communication of concern. Talk about the signs you have noticed and why you think they could indicate depression. You do not need to ask a lot of questions. You are there to listen and provide support.

It also is important to keep teens involved as depression feeds on isolation.

Do whatever you can to keep your child connected to friends and activities. One of the cures for depression is regular exercise – at least an hour a day is recommended for good health. Nutritious, balanced meals are also essential for both physical and mental health.

When symptoms are persistent and/or severe, you want to contact a health professional. It is particularly important to get help if you spot any of the symptoms of suicide, such as expressing death wishes or talking or joking about suicide. Threats of suicide should always be taken seriously.

There is no question that depression can be treated. That’s why it’s so important for an adult to note the symptoms early and get early help for the troubled adolescent.

If you or someone you love is struggling with behavioral or mental health issues, Aspirus Health’s team of mental health specialists can help. For more information, visit: https://www.aspirus.org/mental-health-treatment-counseling.

Heidi Pritzl is a licensed clinical social worker with Aspirus Koller Behavioral Health.