In many cases, the distinction between ordinary sadness and clinical depression is straightforward to discern. However, in teenagers, a certain amount of moodiness and irritability is seen as typical. Most teens feel stressed and annoyed at times. While this is certainly normal, sometimes when a teen talks about feeling stressed, it can suggest that something more may be going on.
In a recent study, researchers found that teens at-risk for depression rarely said they were feeling “depressed.” Instead, they were more likely to talk about feeling “stressed” or “sad”. Many of the teens cited stressful events such as family arguments, school pressure, losses, and transitions as contributors to their worsening moods. The authors cautioned that statements teens make about feeling “stressed” can be signs of developing depressive symptoms.
What can parents do? When teens talk about feeling stressed or sad, parents can validate those feelings and provide space for open dialogue. This message can be conveyed through statements such as, “I understand how overwhelmed you’re feeling because you have so much to do” or “To me, you seem sad lately…how have you been feeling?” Parents can also gently probe to discern whether their child’s sadness is more significant and long-lasting. Other warning signs to look out for include:
- reduced interest in activities previously enjoyed
- increased irritability and anger
- sleeping changes (e.g., difficulty falling asleep or sleeping too much)
If you suspect or wonder whether your teen is depressed, it can be helpful to have him or her evaluated by a mental health professional. There are many effective treatment approaches to help teens improve their moods and cope with stress. To make an appointment with Georgetown Psychology Associates, please visit our website or contact us at 301-652-5550.