Depression in teenagers: what is it and what to do about it?

Depression in teenagers: what is it and what to do about it?

By Catherine Langlois Cloutier and Sara Colalillo ( psychologists, The Montreal Children’s Hospital)

Adolescence is a time of great upheaval (identity building, career choices, first romantic relationships, etc.). Observing changes in your child’s mood and behavior during this period is normal.
However, if your teenager shows several of the symptoms listed below and is having difficulty functioning daily, they may be experiencing depression. This is NOT the same as a child dealing with emotions triggered by typical adolescent challenges (which are usually temporary and resolved on their own).

•Depressed mood or irritability
• Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
• Sleep disturbance
• Low energy level
• Loss of appetite
• Social isolation
• Crying for no apparent reason
• Difficulty concentrating
• Excessive feelings of guilt
• Thinking about death or suicide

Depression is a mental health disorder that affects about 4 percent of adolescents. Although it is more common in girls, boys can also be affected.
But why do we develop depression?
Numerous research studies have identified that when certain factors are present in a teenager’s life, these factors increase the risk of becoming depressed (e.g., grief, academic failure, low self-esteem, etc.). It does not mean the person is weak or lacking in character. Instead, they must maneuver through life despite personal, biological and family/environmental factors that make them more vulnerable to becoming depressed.
If you observe symptoms in your teenager or suspect they are experiencing depression, do not hesitate to talk to them. You can share your thoughts (what are the things that worry you?), let them know your concerns and thus allow them to open up to you about what they are going through. It will also be essential for them to receive support from a mental health professional to treat the depression.
Several barriers can prevent families from seeking support. Some parents believe depression can be cured differently (e.g., by praying and talking to elders) without professional help. We know faith helps people get through difficult times, however, just as someone with diabetes or cancer needs to be treated by a healthcare professional, so does someone with depression.
Other parents may feel seeking professional help is a sign of failure or weakness on their part. This is not the case; recognizing our limits as parents and surrounding ourselves with allies who can help is a sign of strength.
It can also be harder to build a relationship of trust with a professional if they are not from the same cultural background. Some parents and patients may believe they will be misunderstood. Families should not hesitate to communicate their worries and need for culturally sensitive interventions. With proper support from mental health professionals, your teenager can recover from depression and learn how to cope in the future.
For more information on how to access mental health support for you or your child, dial 8-1-1 (option 2). You may also call or visit your local CLSC. If you are worried your child may hurt themselves or someone else, call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

This article is the fourth in a 12-part monthly series focused on child and youth mental health. The articles are a partnership between Montreal Community Contact, The Montreal Children’s Hospital, The Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Jamaica Association of Montreal. Please help The Montreal Children’s Hospital get its young patients back on their feet and bursting with energy again. Donate: