During the teenage years it is normal for kids to start exploring who they are as people. They are learning to be independent and part of that can mean an increased desire for privacy or the development of what parents may see as a rebellious streak. For some teens, though, their change in behavior can be more than just growing pains.
“The average age of onset of major depression is about 14-15 years old,” explains Jasmine Reese, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Specialty Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “However, only 36-44 percent of children and adolescents receive treatment for depression, meaning most go undiagnosed and untreated.”
Mental health issues can affect anyone, of any age, and it may be more common than what many people think. Consider this: Among 10- to 24-year-olds, suicide is the second leading cause of death and according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), 19 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds with major depressive disorder attempt suicide.
Seeing the Signs
While some changes are an expected part of the teen years, an extreme change of behavior–such as a straight-A student who suddenly stops caring about classwork and homework–should be a red flag.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)s 2015’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), during the past year:
- 20.2 percent of high school students experienced bullying on school campus
- 15.5 percent were bullied electronically via email, texting, chatroom, website or instant messaging
- 29.9 percent felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks that they stopped doing usual activities
- 17.7 percent had seriously considered attempting suicide
- 14.6 percent had made a suicide plan
- 8.6 percent had attempted suicide student who suddenly stops caring about classwork and homework -should be a red flag.
The YRBS is a national survey conducted by the CDC every two years. High school students are asked to complete a questionnaire on high-risk health behaviors relating to unintentional injuries and violence, mental health, sexual health, illicit drug usage, physical activity and nutrition.
Other behaviors that could indicate a teen is struggling with depression include:
- Poor performance in school
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Sadness and hopelessness
- Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
- Anger and rage
- Overreaction to criticism
- Poor self-esteem or guilt
- Lack of concentration or forgetfulness
- Restlessness and agitation
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Substance abuse
- Problems with authority
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
Adolescents who are at increased risk of developing a mood disorder include those with a chronic illness such as recurrent abdominal pain, obesity, epilepsy, asthma, disordered eating, those who identify as LGBTQ, experiencing bullying, or have a coexisting mental health problem such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Major depressive disorder also occurs more often among females than males.
As a parent, one of the most important things you can do is to be involved in your child’s life. Know who they are spending time with in school and outside of school and keep them engaged in activities and/or organized sports where they can practice leadership skills and teamwork. Offer positive reinforcement and recognize triumphs. Even small wins can be a big deal in the mind of a teen.
Don’t forget to keep communication open and honest. Ask them about their day at school, their interactions with peers, and about their thoughts and ideas. You may not always agree, but it will open up a discussion and allow you to learn about each other. With a good line of communication, you can start to discuss how they are feeling emotionally. If there is someone in the family that is struggling with depression, talk about it honestly and share how they are getting through it in a positive way with counseling support.
When scheduling regular visits to your child’s primary care provider or adolescent medicine doctor, ask about mental health screening and psychosocial assessments.
At the Adolescent and Young Adult Specialty Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s, a routine mental health screening is a part of almost every visit. Our staff has completed training in screening, diagnosing and treating several mental health diagnoses, including anxiety and depression and we can help connect families to the right therapist in their community.
“Many schools, especially those here in Pinellas County, have resources such as school psychologists, licensed social workers and guidance counselors,” Reese adds. “I encourage parents to get to know their school resources and don’t be afraid to call them to ask questions and have your teens check-in with them routinely.”
Having an individual counselor that your teen can regularly talk with can play a key role in maintaining good mental health. They can help your child actively work on short- and long-term goals and can be there to listen to thoughts and concerns. Adolescents with depression and anxiety can live healthy, normal lives, especially with help from parents and health professionals.
To learn more about services offered at the Adolescent and Young Adult Specialty Clinic or to request an appointment please call 727-767-TEEN (8336).