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By: The Bark TeamSigns of Teen Depression

People are becoming more aware of mental health struggles than ever before. Better conversations and more public acknowledgment have helped destigmatize the topic of mental health. The experience of depression can affect anyone.

While children and adults both experience depression, its effects often change over time as children grow and emotionally mature. Children who are experiencing depression can show symptoms in a myriad of ways, and it is not always obvious to parents when depression is the cause of mood shifts, reduced social involvement, or lower academic participation. By knowing how to identify signs of teen depression, you can be better prepared to help your child understand and confront the symptoms head-on.

In this blog post, you will learn more about the signs of teen depression, plus tools and techniques you can use to foster more open, honest, and transparent conversations with your children.

When Are Kids Most Likely to Experience Depression?

Kids change all the time. These changes usually happen with no warning. One day everything is fine, and the next… nothing is!

But there is a significant difference between discovering new hobbies, for example, and larger shifts that can signal mental health issues. Research shows the experience of depression in adolescents is generally highest among teens 15 to 19 years of age.

Potential causes of depression in teens may include genetics, hormones, and early childhood trauma, among others. There are also risk factors that raise the probability of a teen developing depression, such as using drugs or alcohol or having seen or been a victim of violence.

Despite the possible cause(s), there are common signs of teen depression that when recognized, call for a conversation with your teen.

Common Signs of Teen Depression

Certain signs associated with teen depression may be signs of something altogether different, such as a vitamin deficiency or hypothyroidism. If you are concerned your child is experiencing depression, keep an eye out for the behaviors below. And — of course — speak with your child’s doctor.

Changes in Social Behavior

Parents expect their teens will spend less time at home as they develop friendships and join extracurricular activities. It is problematic if they withdrawal from social interactions they used to enjoy.

Examples may include:

  • Going out of their way to avoid friends.
  • General lack of interest in social activities or extreme aversion to social situations.
  • Avoidance of family gatherings, such as mealtimes, outings, or movie nights.
  • Skipping class, sports, and other activities to spend time alone.
Loss of Interest in Activities

As your child grows up, they may lose passion for a particular hobby, connection with a friend group, or interest in a school subject. However, this is different from a complete disinterest in any activities. Total lack of interest in once-loved pastimes is a common sign of child depression.

Physical Appearance and Demeanor

Depression can affect the body in all kinds of ways. Physical symptoms of depression are sometimes more obvious than emotional symptoms, especially when teens often avoid showing how they are really feeling.

Physical signs of child depression often include:

  • Excessive lethargy or a constant desire to sleep.
  • Irregular sleep patterns — both too frequent and too little.
  • Continual sickness due to a weakened immune system.
  • Heightened anxiety without explanation or that will not subside.
  • Visible signs of self-harm, which must be addressed at once.
Academic Changes

Teens who normally put forth effort and show interest in their schoolwork might suddenly stop caring altogether. If this occurs, then it is a sign to note.

Abnormal Behavior

Is your child displaying abnormal behavior (acting different from how they typically act)? Are they usually confident, expressive, and social? Are they moodier and disconnected from what they usually enjoy? Everyone has a difficult day now and again, and adolescence is full of highs and lows. But you know your child better than anyone, and you should notice right away if they have lost key pieces of their personality.

Signs of abnormal behavior could include:

  • Unexpected mood swings, especially if your child cannot explain or predict them.
  • The inability to recall things that happened recently.
  • Lack of self-care or personal hygiene.
  • Significant, persistent feelings of sadness.

Temporary sadness is common, and children can feel it quite often. However, persistent feelings of sadness are a sign of child depression. If your child cannot explain why they feel sad, then they might be experiencing longer-lasting effects of depression.

Unusual or Alarming Online Activity

Teens can gravitate toward certain online behaviors and communities if they are experiencing depression. Interest in darker subject matter is common during bouts of depression and other mental health struggles. For example, teens could be more likely to seek out online content about acts of self-harm or other expressions of difficult emotions.

Signs of troublesome online behavior might include:

  • More tech use than normal.
  • Excessive late-night browsing.
  • Attempts to hide their activity.
  • Spending time with “online friends.”

Message boards, private chat rooms, messaging apps, and other online resources that are hard to find and even harder to track often have mature content. Bark can help you address this problem.

How to Spot Warning Signs of Child Depression

Now that you know the common signs of teen depression, how do you keep an eye on your child when they are at school, hanging out with friends, or working? Below are both online and offline ways of monitoring behavior to help you keep your child safe.

Online Activity and Sentiment Monitoring

If you have spent time trying to manually check your child’s social accounts, you know it is hard and very time-consuming. Connecting with your child on social media and messaging apps can help, but it is just the start. Since social media platforms allow users to hide certain activities from specific followers, it is impossible to know exactly what is happening in private.

Bark can help you track your child’s online activity. By monitoring social media, texts, messaging apps, and email, Bark helps identify alarming digital behavior. Bark’s sentiment monitoring also uses the tone of messages to give you insight into your child’s emotional state. As a parent, the insights you gain from Bark can be invaluable so you can act sooner when it detects an issue.

Offline Accountability

Offline monitoring can be difficult, too as a part of your child’s activities may go unnoticed even when an adult is supervising them during the day. The following two suggestions can help you monitor uncharacteristic behavior.

  • When your child is around you, jot down how often they show potential signs of child depression. Also, note any potential triggers. Your child’s doctor may use this information for a diagnosis or treatment plan.
  • Tap into a reliable network of teachers, coaches, mentors, parents of friends, religious leaders, or others who can observe how your child acts when not home.

Tips for Approaching a Teen Who is Experiencing Depression

If you are regularly seeing signs of teen depression, the next step could be to get involved. Experts note open communication is vital for helping a child who is experiencing depression. Having a safe place to discuss feelings or verbally process frustrations can be helpful for reducing the effects of depression.

How do you naturally start this conversation while respecting your child’s boundaries and showing empathy?

  1. Address the subject directly and compassionately. Though it may feel uncomfortable at first, it is usually better to get the issue out in the open. Do your best to remove shame, embarrassment, or reluctance to talk about feelings.
  2. Actively listen. Acknowledge your child’s experience. This will show you respect their opinion and believe their symptoms. During face-to-face conversations, use non-verbal cues to show you are hearing and processing what they are saying.
  3. Use their preferred method of communication. Younger children often prefer to open up through text, chat, messaging apps, and other communication tools. These communication methods may feel impersonal to you, but to your child, they might feel safe, comforting, and familiar.
  4. Develop shared ways of talking about depression. Depression can be hard to identify and diagnose because children cannot always explain how they are feeling, or why. Working on common language and explaining terms related to depression are helpful practices.
  5. Provide healthy outlets for conversation and connection. A shared hobby or activity, especially one your child enjoys, might help them open up and talk.

Of course, if you are concerned your child might be depressed, reach out to their pediatrician, who can recommend a licensed therapist to help. Childhood depression is a clinically recognized and treated condition. Treatments range from therapy to medication. Remind your child there is absolutely no shame in getting help. In fact, it is an act of strength and self-care.

What to Avoid When You See Signs of Teen Depression

When signs of teen depression first appear, it can be tempting to brush symptoms off as moodiness. Even if you are unsure what your child is experiencing (and why) there are things you do not want to do.

  • Do not ignore signs of teen depression. This can signal to your child you have not seen changes in their behavior. It can also spur feelings of isolation and further break down communication channels.
  • Do not make your child feel guilty for their experience. This can happen by focusing on how it is affecting their grades, friendships, or other family members.
  • Do not approach depression symptoms with a “get over it” attitude. Your child will know if you treat depression like an optional experience or something they can switch on and off with sheer willpower.
  • Do not stigmatize mental health issues. Using negative language about therapy or depression can affect how your child perceives their own feelings.
  • Do not show signs of inactive/distracted listening. Instead, show you are taking their symptoms seriously.

Key Takeaways about Child Depression

It is understandable if this all feels a bit overwhelming. The key takeaways are simple.

  • Keep a watchful eye if you think there are warning signs of child depression.
  • Monitor online and offline activity.
  • Use an understanding and empathetic approach in your conversations and interactions.
  • Avoid the language of blame or personal responsibility.
  • Act when you spot signs of teen depression.

These key takeaways will all go a long way toward early and healthy forms of intervention. Lastly, if you are working through difficult issues with your child, it is important to care for yourself, too.

To learn more about Bark, contact us.