How to Spot Depression and Anxiety in Teens

by Gillian Louise Adams, MD
October 10, 2018

Teens today seem to experience depression and anxiety more than ever before. While social pressure to make friends and get along with others in school has always played a role in mental health, today’s teens face unique challenges because of technological developments, like social media, that allow for constant interpersonal exchanges without natural downtime.

We can see social media’s impact on teen depression and anxiety, as it can cause:

  • Pressure to fit in: Teens’ desire to fit in with classmates can be magnified by social media, as they naturally can compare themselves to their peers who post pictures of themselves at social events, such as concerts or birthday parties.
  • Cyberbullying: Bullying can go to the next level with social media, as teens can message one another instantly and spread secrets or other information to classmates much more easily.
  • Decreased social skills: Social media can make it easy for teens to stay home and rely on online interactions rather than real life ones. As a result, teens can miss out on learning important social skills.

Parents often feel confused because some of these effects are similar to common adolescent behaviors. However, there are key symptoms parents should look for to reduce risks associated with anxiety and depression, and red flags that a teen needs behavioral health care.

Low energy, trouble sleeping, and irritability are three symptoms of #Depression and #Anxiety in #Teens. Learn how parents can help and when to seek medical attention. via @MedStarHealth

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Spotting symptoms of depression and anxiety

Depression is continuous or cyclical severe despondency and dejection; anxiety is feeling worried, nervous, or uneasy without a specific cause, or about events over which the teen has no control. Some parents report that their children make negative comments about themselves, such as, "I'm stupid,” “School is dumb or boring,” or “I'm just not as good as the other kids."

Other symptoms of depression and anxiety can include:

  • Irritability
  • Low energy
  • Lack of interest in favorite activities
  • Risk-taking behaviors, such as drug use, dangerous driving, or self-harm
  • Trouble sleeping

Repeated behavior for weeks or months is a key way to differentiate typical teenage mood swings from depression or anxiety. For example, if you notice your teen waking up late and hardly getting out of bed on the weekends, look for patterns or triggers to determine whether this is routine behavior or out of the ordinary for your child. If these behaviors seem to be out of the ordinary, consider talking to your child’s doctor.

Tips for parents, and how a doctor can help

When it comes to social media, we often suggest that parents monitor their child’s usage to help them avoid the implications it can have to their mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics and Family Practice suggests no more than two hours of screen time (cell phones, laptops, etc.) per day, and none at night. A good tip for helping limit the use is to ask your child to keep their phone in the kitchen at night. Additionally, make sure you have access to your child’s phone so you have the ability to monitor what apps they’re using or websites they’re visiting.

If you visit with a family doctor, we typically act as a “central dispatch.” You can bring your problems to us, and we will help you create a path based on where you and your child want to go. This can include meeting with a therapist and receiving behavioral therapy, taking medication, or making lifestyle modifications that can help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some helpful lifestyle modifications may include:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising at least 30 minutes a day, four days a week
  • Sleeping eight to 10 hours per night

As parents, one of our most important roles is to help our children love themselves. If something seems off with your teen’s mental health, don’t hesitate to speak to them about it and seek medical attention, when necessary.

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Category: Living Well, Uncategorized     Tags: Adolescent's Healthbehavioral healthmental healthWellness