Every teen has occasional mood swings or feels down in the dumps. This does not always mean that your teen is depressed. Depression is a serious mood disorder that can wreak havoc on your teen's life. It affects around 5 percent of all teens, according to the Johns Hopkins Medicine Mood Disorders Center. Learning about the effects of depression on teens is one way to educate yourself so you can get your teen the help she needs.
Depressed teens often experience a wide range of negative emotional changes. Parents might notice that their teen has an increased sensitivity to criticism or failure, appear sad or hopeless, experiences lowered energy levels, seems to have lost their motivation or zest for life or frequently seems irritable or angry. Unlike depressed adults, who usually appear more sad and depressed, teens might seem more irritable than sad. Irritability and feeling grumpy are emotional signs of depression in teens that usually dominate over feelings of sadness, according to Dr. Carol Glod, director of nursing research at Harvard University’s McLean Hospital, in an article for the Families for Depression Awareness organization.
Behavioral changes might be some of the more easily detectable effects of depression in teens. Parents might be quick to notice these changes because the changes are, in most cases, an obvious departure from the way the teen normally acts. Depressed teens might cry more frequently, argue with parents or siblings, engage in reckless or violent behaviors, such as careless driving or fighting with others, run away from home or abuse drugs and alcohol as a way of numbing their emotional pain. In addition, in serious cases, depressed teens might experience suicidal thoughts or even act on these thoughts, say authors Melinda Smith, M.A., Suzanne Barston and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., in an article for Help Guide. If you are worried that your teen might be suicidal, you should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Link in Resources).
Changes in relationships are also a common effect of teen depression. Your teen might withdraw from her family or usual friends, stop spending time on the phone with friends, spend more time alone or go out less often. You might also notice that your teen starts socializing with a completely different social circle. However, while adults with depression often completely withdraw from social contact, depressed teens usually maintain a few close relationships, according to Dr. Glod. Depressed teens who are dating might also fight more frequently or break up with their partners.
Teen depression can result in a significant impairment in academic functioning, such as unexplained declines in grades or poor test scores. Depression might also cause teens to have difficulty paying attention in class, according to the National Association of School Psychologists. Depressed teens might skip class or cause trouble in the classroom, such as interrupting their teachers or classmates or acting out in other ways. Poor academic performance or unrealistic parental expectations for academic achievement can also be a trigger for depression in teens, especially if they feel unable to live up to to their parents' high standards.