Distinguishing between normal adolescent behavior and true depression is not always an easy task; here are a few expert tips for warning signs to help in the process:
Anger or irritability
Though it’s common to just look for symptoms of sadness or a depressed mood in your child, adolescents and teens can also exhibit externalizing responses, such as frequent temper outbursts or aggressive behavior, says pediatric psychologist Kimberly Burkhart, PhD. She says that depression in younger children may be noticed by them reacting more emotionally and moody. “For instance, one minute the child is very happy and the next minute, they’re irritable or angry.”
A common symptom for depression is if the individual is experiencing negative thoughts about themselves, about others and about the future, explains Burkhart. As with adults, kids with depression may show a lack of self-esteem and also feelings of worthlessness. “People with depression often feel like they can’t do anything right, are not liked and/or they’re not good at anything,” she says.
Changes in sleeping habits
Watch for signs of children sleeping too little or too much, such as taking long naps regularly. They can also display a loss of energy and be noticeably fatigued. Be aware that a lack of sleep can make depression symptoms worse.
Another warning sign is if your child is having trouble with school; perhaps they are exhibiting trouble with thinking or concentrating. “This may not be ADHD, but rather a sign of depression,” Burkhart says. This could present as an overall decline in academic performance and it’s wise to have a talk with your child’s teachers or coaches to determine if they’ve also noticed any changes in behavior, mood or schoolwork.
Loss of interest
Timothy Zeiger, a psychologist at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, says depressed children and teens may exhibit a loss of interest in activities they usually enjoy, an overall general sense of negativity and feelings of boredom. This will be apparent if children suddenly don’t want to participate in activities they love and/or start withdrawing from friends and family. They may be spending hours isolated in their rooms instead of interacting with family or friends.
While something to be aware of is weight loss or weight gain with your child, another important symptom to pay attention to is their appetite. If he or she is eating too much than usual or not enough over a period of time, then this could be a sign of something deeper. Of course there are other things to consider such as if your adolescent or teen is active in sports, for example, and his hunger has increased because he is exercising more.
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