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Is My Teenager Depressed? Recognizing the Symptoms of Depression in Teens

“I can’t tell if my teenager is just moody or if he is depressed. What’s the difference?”

In my private psychotherapy practice I get asked this question a lot by worried parents wondering about the dividing line between usual adolescent moodiness and clinical depression. It’s a good question.

College-Teenager-Depression

Teenagers can be very moody. They can also sometimes be downright surly. The pendulum swing between the emotional polarities of happy to sad may fluctuate rapidly. It’s only when the pendulum gets “stuck “ on sadness, and your teen’s feelings of hopelessness and helplessness interfere with his ability to succeed in school, enjoy family and friends, engage in life, that your teen may need some help in getting his pendulum moving again.

During their teenage years adolescents experience a good deal of mental and physical growth. According to researchers, the developing teen brain makes as many new connections as a newborn infant’s. We all know how much physical change occurs during the teen years. This growth of brain and body can be physically exhausting for teens. In fact, the average teen requires more sleep than a newborn baby. Emotional and psychological maturation also occur. All this growth and change helps the adolescent develop their sense of self, an identity.

It can be difficult for parents to see their “sweet little child” suddenly turn into a person they no longer recognize. Well, guess what, your child may not recognize herself either. It’s no wonder that your teenager may sit in her room alone for hours feeling confused and scared by her changing self. Add to this mix outside stressors such as grades, college, changing peer relationships, and leaving home. For the majority of adolescents, this too shall pass. However, if your child is among the 11% of teens experiencing symptoms of depression here are some signs to look for.

Sadness is the number one sign of depression. Along with sadness, notice any changing behavior in your teen. I found this helpful video on Be Smart Be Well.com, a health and wellness website, in which Ken Duckworth, MD, Medical Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness lists five symptoms to look for in your teen. Have your child’s sleeping patterns changed; is your child no longer interested in interacting with friends; is your child using drugs or alcohol; does your child experience physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches; is your child talking about harming himself?

Most importantly it’s crucial to keep in mind, as Dr. Duckworth points out in his video, depression in teens is real, and it is treatable.

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