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Sadness and Depression in Teenagers

by Kathryn Walsh

Turbulent mood swings and the "No one gets me!" blues are hallmarks of the teen years -- but when your teenager seems down and sad all the time, she might be displaying signs that she needs help. Knowing the difference between depression and the normal moods that come with fluctuating hormones allows you to support her in the right way, whether she needs professional help or just a shoulder to cry on.

Normal Teenage Sadness

You know that your teen's moods aren't always controlled by reason. She might be laughing at one of your jokes one minute and rolling her eyes at you the next, and spells of sadness can come on just as suddenly. If your teen periodically cries, refuses to talk to you or just generally seems mopey, rest assured that this is normal. Kids are sad sometimes, says the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, or AACAP, and normal bouts of sadness will fade. If your teen is struggling with a bigger issue, you'll spot more signs than just an occasional sniffle.

Depression in Teenagers

Childstats.gov reports that in 2009, eight percent of adolescents aged 12 to 17 had a Major Depressive Episode in the previous year, and girls are more than twice as likely as boys to suffer. In addition to sadness, a teen struggling with depression might exhibit low energy, and sleep and eat either too much or not enough. Teenage depression might manifest as negativity and grouchiness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and not all teen depressions are the same. Your child might have a depressive episode, during which you'll notice changes like a sudden disinterest in activities she once enjoyed. Or your teen might have a chronic depressive disorder, says the AACAP, in which case her default setting might be melancholic.

Helping a Sad Teenager

If you suspect your child is going through the normal ups and downs of adolescence, try to determine if some external factor is causing her sadness. Say something like, "I can see you're feeling down lately." If she doesn't want to talk to you, ask if there's another trusted adult she'll talk to, or if she'll write you a letter expressing her feelings. Ask her if she needs help dealing with her sadness and offer to arrange a meeting with a therapist. If she feels she can handle her feelings on her own and you believe that, the AACAP suggests building her up whenever possible. Celebrate every aced quiz and soccer goal and give her plenty of affection during this time.

Helping a Depressed Teenager

If you feel your teen is depressed, take action quickly. Teens suffering from depression are at increased risk of alcohol use, drug use, and suicide. Your child's pediatrician can talk to your teen about her symptoms and recommend a local mental health counselor. Regular appointments, and possibly medication, can help your teen adjust her worldview. Always watch a depressed teen for signs she might be suicidal. Giving away favorite possessions and talking about how nothing matters are two such signs, says the AACAP. Contact her doctor immediately and put her in touch with a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

About the Author

Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.

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