When my teen was diagnosed with major depression, it was kind of an ‘aha moment’ for me. The symptoms of teen depression had all been there, but for over a year, I had been looking right past them, trying to connect his behavior to life events, disappointments, and other conditional things. When his therapist diagnosed him, and then his doctor confirmed it, in an odd way, it was a relief to both of us. He didn’t feel so ‘broken’–left to wonder why he was feeling so unlike himself–and I didn’t feel quite as responsible (as it turns out, my kid’s life doesn’t revolved only around me, after all).
Still, we faced troubling symptoms of teen depression, and along with finding the right medication prescribed by his psychiatrist, we wanted to tap into some solutions for his day-to-day struggle.
Top symptoms of teen depression, and how to help
Trouble concentrating and remembering details:
Often, if I give my teen a list of three items to remember to grab before he leaves the house, he’ll forget two of them. Schoolwork can also be a challenge. Just knowing that some ‘scattered’ feelings are symptoms of depression can help take the pressure off, but it also helps to break tasks into smaller increments, and celebrate the completion of each. Finishing a measurable task–however small–can release dopamine, which can inspire more action and less procrastination.
Persistent ’empty’ or sad feelings:
This one is so tough! When my teen tells me he feels ’empty’, it breaks my heart. Exercise often helps, even in short bursts, and getting some sunshine and fresh air can also help ‘reset’ the mood. Teens will often gravitate toward physical comforts when they’re feeling sad, like food, so it can help to have healthy yet satisfying options available for snacking.
Loss of interest in activities they enjoyed:
This is another really tough symptom of teen depression, and I often feel angry ‘at depression’ for stealing my son’s favorite activities and passions from him. We find that the ‘fake it until you make it’ approach can work, and again, in short bursts or small doses. My kid loves to skateboard, so I might suggest focusing on learning one new trick during a 15 minute break from online learning. This suggestion hits two boxes, because it combines the ‘task completion dopamine boost’ with some exercise. And once ‘forced’ to interact with a favorite activity, my teen finds that he ‘relearns’ his love for it pretty quickly. This can help break the depression loop.
Irritability or short-temperedness:
It can be hard not to take it personally when my teen is short-tempered for no apparent reason, but it can help to point this out to him as a symptom of depression, rather than simply a reprimand. When he can see the irritability as ‘apart’ from himself, rather than innate in him, it gives him some distance from the feeling. It can help to take a five minute break to play with a pet, do something for another, or even do a small chore…just to get out of one’s head.
Want to print out a copy for your home? Download our free ‘happiness chemicals’ chart!
We keep our chart taped to the kitchen cupboard door, so we can reference it anytime, and I can suggest activities based on my teen’s symptoms. But if you have a teen who resists attempting to use the chart or take your suggestions, please know you are not alone. Mine resists about half the time, which is discouraging but to be expected. After all, depression or no, teens don’t love listening to their parents, do they?