What signs of depression should parents be on the lookout for when it comes to discerning depression in their adolescents?
The statistics released by SACAP Fieldwork Placement Centre, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), are dismaying. They reveal that as many as one in five South African youths have attempted suicide. The 10- to 19-year age group is at greatest risk of taking their own lives. There is double the incidence of depression in teens in comparison to adults. And research further shows that anxiety disorders and depression are particularly high in South Africa.
Teens and Stress
Few would argue that it’s tougher than ever to be a teenager in this fast-paced, highly competitive world. In South Africa, where the high prevalence of crime, poverty and illness compound an already stressful existence, teenagers have it extra tough. According to SADAG, 38.3% of our country’s young people feel so hopeless that they need medical attention. However, fewer than 1% of the available mental-hospital beds are allocated to children and adolescents.
Stress is a usual part of life. Adolescence brings with it anxiety over school performance, social status peers, sexuality, and family life. As well as a surge of hormones and its concurrent rollercoaster of emotions. The result is that the usual level of life-related stress is magnified for an adolescent. But stress and depression are two different things.
The challenge is that teenagers are stereotyped as moody, with intensely fluctuating emotional highs and lows. Their behaviour can be erratic and unpredictable, but depression is not simply moodiness. It is a mood disorder, characterised by a variety of symptoms that could well be mistaken for typical teenage behaviour.
Signs of Teen Depression include:
- A prolonged sad or empty feeling and the belief that life is hopeless or has no meaning.
- A loss of interest in activities that were formerly enjoyed, such as sports, hobbies or social activities.
- Withdrawal from family, friends and relationships in general.
- Eating disorders, changes in appetite and/or weight gain or loss.
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches or intense fatigue.
- Insomnia, or its reverse: over-sleeping.
- A drop in grades, behavioural problems at school, persistent negativity, or self-criticism.
- Drug or alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity or self-harming.
- An apparent preoccupation with death and/or dying.
Are Girls More at Risk?
The average age for the onset of depression is 14 years. Furthermore, depression frequently runs in families. According to Doctor Ron Steingard, Associate Medical Director of the Child Mind Institute in New York, anxiety and depression occur in both genders. Although by the teenage years, girls are much more at risk than boys. “In fact,” says Steingard, “by mid-adolescence girls are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder as boys.”
Why is there such a big disparity between the genders?
Steingard puts forward that brain scans show that there are differences in the way that girls and boys process emotional stimuli. Essentially, girls mature, in terms of their emotional recognition, faster than boys. And that sensitivity is thought to make them more vulnerable to depression and anxiety.
It’s plausible that these gender differences around the time of puberty can be traced to evolutionary advantages, claims Steingard. “Girls may be wired to tune in earlier to emotional stimuli because it was advantageous for nurturing babies. For young men, given their roles as hunters and tribe protectors, emotional responsiveness might have been an important attribute not to have.”
Why Seek Help for Teen Depression?
Steingard points out that your child’s immediate suffering isn’t the only reason to seek professional help. Life-long consequences of adolescent depression can impact both academic performance and social functioning. For example, the lethargy, inability to concentrate and low self-esteem that often accompany depression make it easy to see how this can happen. Fortunately, however, early involvement of healthcare professionals can shorten the period of depression. The most common treatment is a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Intervention for teen depression and anxiety has proven to be very effective and has a lasting positive impact.
Assisting Depressed Adolescents
If you’d like to play a role in helping families with teens showing signs of depression, why not consider taking a counselling course? SACAP has several options available, including a Bachelor of Psychology professional degree and a Diploma in Counselling and Communication Skills that includes a practical component. For more information, enquire now.
1. Who is more likely to suffer from depression?
Depression is 50% more common among adolescent girls and women than in boys and men.
2. Why are teens depressed?
Adolescents face several challenges and life changes that can lead to depressive episodes. Reasons for depression include but aren’t limited to, bullying, academic pressure, social media, puberty and having a medical condition.
Why do teens get stressed?
A certain level of stress is a normal part of life. However, stress levels in teens can be overly heightened. Teen stress triggers include: School linked anxiety, deciding what to do after school and family-linked financial concerns.