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Our team of Toronto therapists know that parents are often very focussed on guiding our adolescent children toward a happy and productive adulthood. However, there’s one area of their lives that’s easy to overlook, but extremely important: mental health. The statistics are sobering. Some 70% of mental-health disorders first appear before the age of 17. In addition, between 15% and 20% of children and teens have a diagnosable mental-health issue. One of the most common of these is depression. And unfortunately, many of these young people don’t get the help they need. When our teenage children act in confusing or frustrating ways, it can seem like simple teen angst. Often there’s something more serious going on. In this blog I’ll explain some of the ways to recognize depression in children and teens, and what steps parents can take to help.

Signs of depression

Signs of depression

Children and teens can be reluctant to talk about their feelings, so it’s important to watch for changes in their behaviour. These are often the best indicators of their mood and mental health. And once you know what to look for, the signs of depression are quite distinct from those of ordinary teen mood swings. 

For one, depression in youth presents differently than in adults. The most common symptoms of adult depression are fatigue, sadness or crying, disengagement from life and loss of interest in daily activities. For teens, one of the most common signs is a high level of irritability or unfriendliness. This may seem like anger, but often it’s not. Physical symptoms can include head, stomach and general body aches, along with rapid weight loss or gain. Another is forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating, along with sleeping at odd hours. A steep or rapid drop in grades is another sign. Also, while depressed adults tend to withdraw into themselves, teens with depression withdraw from adults, but often not from their friends. So to some extent, that can mask the issue.

On their own, none of these symptoms are especially worrying. It’s a different story when you see more than one. The other measure is the severity of these behavioural changes, and how long they last. Finally if you see any indication of self-harm, you should immediately and directly talk to your teen about it and seek help.

Treating teen depression

Depression is a serious mental health challenge, but also a very treatable one. The first step is communication. Be attuned to your teenager. Ask how they are. Ask about their emotional well-being. Be curious, but not judgemental. Ironically, an early overreaction by parents can move things in the wrong direction. If a teen shares that they’re feeling bad, and you immediately rush them to the doctor, it can keep them from sharing in the future. Listen to what they want, and try to find a balance between keeping them safe, while giving them space. (The only exception is if you have serious concerns about their safety. In that case, seek urgent help).

As with adults, treatment for depression in young people often includes a mix of medical/pharmacological care and talk therapy. It’s also important to get young people involved in their own care. As parents we want to rush in and fix things, but you need to show support without interfering. How? Continuously express your confidence they’ll get through this. Also let them know that no one is expecting them to behave normally and do the usual teen things when their life—for the moment—is not normal.  One other thing you can do is, from time to time, help your kid “take a break” from depression. For a few hours or a day forget about falling grades or medical appointments, and just engage them in something they love doing. Watch one of their favourite movies or TV show, take in a ballgame together or (perhaps the ultimate parental sacrifice) listen along to their weird and baffling music.

Finally, remember that although depression is serious, the earlier you seek help and support, the better the outcome will be. So, the sooner you’re able to distinguish between teen angst and depression, the sooner your child can be on the road to recovery.

Your Therapy is a safe, welcoming, counselling therapy practice that offers confidential, mental health assessment and treatment in the Greater Toronto Area. Thanks for reading and, as always, please feel free to reach out with questions about mental wellness depression therapy in Toronto.

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