Teen Depression | Why is my teenager so miserable?

Every parent wants their children to be healthy and happy. We do everything in our power. We love them, we guide them, we occasionally spoil them. But every teen goes through those awkward teen depression moments, sometimes angry and sometimes sad with mood swings that make us all dread puberty. And we ask ourselves, “Why is my teenager so miserable?”. Moreover, “Am I doing something wrong?”

The reality of teen depression

It’s easy to second guess yourself and even easier to assume we have an answer because we know what’s best for our kids. But the reality is that our children’s experiences are completely different from those we had as kids. The pressures of receiving the most likes and being able to juggle your persona on multiple platforms has become a normal part of life for them. Even if we don’t allow them to use social media.

Underneath all that, there are still the normal experiences of just being human.

So how do we deal with that? How do we know if our kids are just being teenagers or if they genuinely need help? How do we gauge the needs of some one who wants to close themselves off? And how do we stay sane in the process?

All valid questions.

What causes depression in youth?

We may never know exactly what’s happening in the mind of our teenagers. That’s OK. There are some things we do know can contribute to depression in teens:

  • Teenage hormones are as certain as death and taxes. We all remember what it was like to be a teen. It’s dramatic and at times terrifying. You are learning about who you are and who you aren’t. You feel like the world is your oyster but you can’t quite figure out how to pop it open and dig out the pearl in the center. We discover love.. Or at least puppy love. It’s confusing and at times…..depressing.
  • Abnormal brain chemistry can lead to depression. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that carry signals to other parts of your brain and body. When these systems are thrown off balance, depression is a common unwanted side effect for all ages.
  • Genetics. Depression is 3 times more likely if your parents or siblings are also afflicted. This doesn’t mean you are doomed if your sister or brother tends to be a downer.  However, it is something to be aware of.
  • Learning Disabilities and ADHD have been linked to teenage depression
  • Other mental health conditions.
  • Early childhood trauma. Physical or emotional abuse, loss of a parent, and other traumatic events such as witnessing abuse may cause changes in the brain that make a person more susceptible to depression.
  • Learned helplessness — rather than learning to feel capable of finding solutions, they have learned to rely on others or simply give up.
  • Obesity carries a social stigma that is at best, harsh for relentless teenagers.
  • Friend issues. The normal teen stuff.
  • Long-term bullying.
  • Academic problems. The pressure for kids to be better and smarter or faster can lead to many kids feeling not good enough.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Chronic physical pain or illness.
  • Alcohol and/or drug abuse.
  • Struggling with gender identity.
  • Family dysfunction and conflict.
  • Divorce.
  • Death of a loved one. Especially a family member who committed suicide.

How do I know if my teen is suffering from depression ?

It can be very difficult to tell if your son or daughter is within a healthy normal range of teenage angst. Some teens are naturally solemn. Some are naturally wild. Every teen has a different personality, so in that respect, you know them best.

Being mindful of our teenagers’ behavior is crucial, for more than one obvious reason. Depression is one of the most important of them all. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young adults age 15-24. 3 of these 4 children who reach this desperate level will have showed signs to a family member or friend. If they are teetering on the line of your comprehension (as this is what it may feel like at times), there are signals you can look out for.

Teens with depression will show changes in attitude, conduct, and demeanor that will stand out causing issues at home, with friends, at school, and sometimes at work if your young adult is at that age.

You might see changes such as:

  • Unexplained sadness and crying
  • Frustration and angry outbursts
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Irritable demeanor
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Tired and/or sleeping too much
  • Conflict with family and friends
  • Low self-esteem
  • Guilt
  • Fixation on failures and self flaws
  • Need for excessive reassurance
  • Trouble with memory and focus
  • A sense of having no future
  • Frequent thoughts of death and/or suicide
  • Loss of energy
  • Insomnia
  • Changes in appetite — decreased appetite or weight loss
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Frequent visits to the school nurse
  • Social isolation
  • Poor school performance or frequent absences from school
  • Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
  • Risky behavior such as self cutting
  • Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt

How to help a teenager who doesn’t want help? From depression to joy.

There are so many resources on the internet, it can be overwhelming and even hard to find good information. Rest assured, the best thing you can do for your child is to spend time with them. Regardless of their reaction to it, talk to them. Let them know you are there for them. Even if you think they aren’t listening, they are.

For further insights on how to reach your child, From Depression to Joy A Parent’s Handbook For Teenage Wellness  is a wonderful and effective read on how to communicate and problem solve with your teen.

Ways for you and your teen to deal with depression.

It is effortless to forget about yourself when you see your child in need. The first thing to remember here is that you need to do this together. That means your needs matter too. So to deal with depression or just normal stress, here are some tips to help you both. They can be done separately, but hopefully together.

  • Spend some time outside. Research shows that spending as few as 30 minutes walking outside daily can make you feel substantially less depressed. Plus, it gives you a chance to talk. Even if it’s about nothing, it is better than nothing.
  • Reduce or eliminate your processed sugar intake. Grab some fruit or fresh pressed juice when you crave something sweet.
  • Quiet your mind and meditate. Use binaural beats (available on YouTube) with headphones, close your eyes and practice “deep belly breathing”.

teen depression
  • Spend time with your teenager on their terms. Do a fun activity together of their choosing and validate their emotions when you talk. Try to learn something about them you didn’t already know. You might be delightfully surprised.
  • Learn to control stress. Learn techniques to increase emotional resilience and boost self-esteem.
  • Look to support systems. Support can be found in friends, family, groups with similar interests and experiences, or in places you least expect like counseling.
  • Seek professional help. Untreated depression can be serious and too often the mistake of ignoring it is fatal. Individual and/or family counseling can be considered. It’s important to let them know they are not alone and you are willing to participate in their recovery.
  • Stay mindful and kind to each other. Depression can hit at any time to you or a family member. Keep tabs on each other emotionally. Look out for what you love the most.

It’s a family affair. 

What your child needs the most is you. Even if they can’t or won’t admit it. That has to be the biggest take-away here. Also, don’t blame yourself. This is a part of life as we live and breathe. It can happen to any of us. Fortunate or wanting. As long as you have each other, in the end, it will only be a memory of how you overcame and conquered teen depression. Together.

For more information on Teen Depression watch here.

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Rahmah Albugami, M.S. Ed, NCC
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