Adolescent Depression: A Guide for Parents

Mental illness is not just an adult problem. Children and teens can experience things like depression and anxiety. While you might expect your child to be moody or out of sorts every now and then (especially in their teenage years), adolescent depression can be a serious problem. With  National Depression Screening Day coming up on October 7th and World Mental Health Day on October 10th, now is a good time to learn about the signs of depression in children and teens and how to deal with it.

What Does Adolescent Depression Look Like?

Every child is different and they will not always display exact same signs and symptoms as another. To recognize mental distress or depression, you should be aware of a variety of possible changes in your child’s behavior and wellbeing.

Depression in children and teens may include the following signs and symptoms:

  • Irritable or sad mood for a majority of the day
    • Being tearful
    • Acting cranky
    • They communicate that they feel sad or angry
  • Not enjoying things that used to make them happy
  • Low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness
  • Sleeping too little at night or too much during the day
  • Changes in eating habits and weight
    • Weight gain
    • Weight loss
    • Loss of appetite
    • Binge eating
  • Isolating themselves away from friends and family
  • Lack of energy and inability to do normal tasks
  • Aches and pains without a physical cause

What You Can Do to Help with Adolescent Depression

If you notice the signs of adolescent depression, then you should seek help from their pediatrician and other professionals. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends the following steps to help with adolescent depression:

  • Talk to your child openly about their feelings
  • Talk to your child’s doctor to discuss possible medical problems that are linked to depression
  • Ask your child’s pediatrician about possible screening tests. Many doctors will screen children every year from ages 12 through 21.
  • Seek help from a psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor if needed.
  • Promote general health and wellness
    • Diet
    • Sleep
    • Exercise
    • Positive social connections
    • Limiting screen time
  • Have one-on-one time with your child and provide praise and encouragement
  • Provide a safe and healthy environment for kids
    • Make sure to secure knives, guns, ropes, cables, and/or medication, especially if your child or teen has exhibited suicidal behavior
  • Educate others about your child’s condition to avoid misconceptions that they are cranky, lazy, or making up symptoms.
  • Follow the treatment plan your child’s care providers prescribe
    • Don’t be impatient, it can take time for treatment to be effective

Building a Mental Healthcare Team

As the American Academy of Pediatricians outlines, if your child is struggling with depression or another mental health issue, their care team may include the following professionals:

  • Pediatrician: Your child’s pediatrician should be an integral part of their mental health care team. They can help with both diagnosis and a treatment plan for your child that may include a therapy referral and medication.
  • Psychiatrist: An MD who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental disorders. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications because they are medical doctors. They are responsible for diagnosing mental disorders and prescribing therapy and medication and maybe a needed referral by your pediatrician in certain circumstances. They can refer their patients and/or their family members to talk therapy while the psychiatrist focuses on medication.
  • Licensed Psychologist: A counselor with a master’s degree or doctoral degree in psychology. Many tests used to assess a child’s or teen’s psychological health have to be administered by licensed psychologists.
  • Licensed Professional Counselor: Has a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or related field and provides talk therapy and counseling. 
  • Mental Health Counselor: Has a master’s degree and several years of supervised clinical work experience. Provides talk therapy and counseling. 
  • Marital and Family Therapist: Has a master’s degree with special education and training in marital and family therapy.

Contact Wake Forest Pediatrics

The providers at Wake Forest Pediatrics strive to improve patient care by strengthening the patient-doctor relationship, providing open communication, and working as a team for a comprehensive approach to medical care. This includes providing assistance for parents and children struggling with mental health issues like adolescent depression. To talk to our team about a plan of care for your child, call our Wake Forest office at 919-556-4779 or our Knightdale office at 919-266-5059 to make an appointment.

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