Dr. Desire Christensen is a psychiatrist with Aspirus Behavioral Health in Stevens Point. (Contributed)

Teen depression: More than just moodiness

Metro Wire Staff

Changes occur throughout life, but those that accompany adolescence and puberty are dramatic.

Changes in physical appearance, hormones, emotions, and social pressures—during growing pains and pressures, a certain amount of moodiness and acting out is to be expected. As a result, it is easy to miss the signs of a more severe problem such as depression.

Dr. Desire Christensen, a psychiatrist with Aspirus Behavioral Health in Stevens Point, said family history, and living environment, are important risk factors to consider.

”Having a parent who has had depression increases an adolescent’s risk,” Christensen said. “Also at elevated risk are teens who have suffered a major injury or have been exposed to traumatic or stressful events, such as poverty, physical or sexual abuse, or the death of a family member or close friend.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, parents who tend to think of depression solely in terms of sadness, are likely to miss the signs, which may differ from those of adults.

The signs of depression

Irritability, anger, and hostility: These are core symptoms and often more important than depressed mood among adolescents. These may be accompanied by behavioral problems, substance abuse, refusal to attend school, or a decline in academic performance.

Withdrawal from family and friends: All teens want and need privacy; but an adolescent who regularly retreats to her room after school and, except for meals, stays there for the rest of the evening may be showing signs of depression.

Changes in eating and sleeping habits: These are expected during adolescence; but extreme changes, such as loss of interest in food or compulsive overeating, are symptoms.

“Loss of interest in activities that used to bring pleasure is a key symptom of depression at any age,” she added. “Other possible signs include persistent fatigue, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, unexplained aches and pains, and frequent crying.”

Parents and other family members or friends should note how long the symptoms last, their severity, and how much the affected person is deviating from their usual habits.

“If you see the signs, do not ignore them. Left untreated, depressive symptoms can become increasingly severe,” Christensen said. “Talking to a child about depression should not be a confrontation but communication of concern. Talk about the signs you have noticed and why you think they could indicate depression. You do not need to ask a lot of questions; you are there to listen and provide support.”

Christensen also recommends keeping teens involved, as depression feeds on isolation. Do whatever you can to keep your child connected to friends and activities, she said.

“One of the cures for depression is regular exercise—at least an hour a day is recommended for good health. Nutritious, balanced meals are also essential for both physical and mental health,” she said.

When symptoms are persistent and/or severe, you want to contact a health professional. It is particularly important to get help if you spot any of the symptoms of suicide, such as expressing death wishes or talking or joking about suicide. Threats of suicide should always be taken seriously.

“There is no question that depression can be treated. That’s why it’s so important for an adult to note the symptoms early and get early help for the troubled adolescent,” she said.

If you or someone you love is struggling with behavioral or mental health issues, Aspirus Health’s team of behavioral health specialists can help.

For more information, please visit: https://www.aspirus.org/mental-health-treatment-counseling