Emo or Depression? Dealing with Your Teen’s Melancholy Moods

You notice your teen acting strangely lately, but you shrug it off with the thought that teens do act strange and that it is just his “emo” phase. But is it really? Is it just a teen’s moods swings (which is normal) or is it already depression? How can you even know?

Depressing Facts about this Mental Illness

Depression is a mental illness. It is not just having an “emo phase”, which can be normal during the teenage years.  The teenage years are a source of a lot of drama between the parents and the teen. This is a time of great upheaval – the teen is facing confusion about his identity, his transition from childhood into adulthood. Add in peer pressure, stress from school and home and other setbacks in life into the mix and you may have a teen who feels sad and angry. But normally, these feelings fade over time.

Not so with depression. Depression is a mental state or mood that persists for weeks, even months. There is an overwhelming sense of despair, guilt or even anger. And depression can hit teens and hit hard. According to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 1 in every 12 teens are affected with depression. And this will rise to be 3 in every 12 teens by the time these teens reach age 18. In addition, one out of every 5 teens who have suffered from clinical depression will also carry this well into adulthood.

There are many types of depression that can strike teenagers:

Major depression. The sad mood that persists is already affecting the teen’s ability to function normally – to eat, sleep and study. There is a constant feeling of helplessness and an inability to feel happy.

Bipolar disorder. This is marked by alternating moods. One moment, your teen can’t seem to be bothered to even lift a finger and in another moment there is high (though negative) energy. One moment, your teen explodes into a temper tantrum and then in another dissolves into tears with no apparent. Bipolar disorder is usually developed during the late teens and early adulthood and may strike 1 to 2% of teens.

Dysthymia. This is marked by irritability, sadness, feelings of hopelessness and low self-esteem but is not as severe as major depression. However, the feelings may last for a long time, in some cases for more than a year.

Dealing with teen depression

The good news is that depression can be treated successfully. The bad news is that depression is just attributed as a phase and only about 1 out of 5 teens get treated. As parents and caregivers of teens, it is important that we are on the lookout for the red flags that point towards depression to ensure that our teens get the help they need.

Note the following red flags; consider the length and severity wherein these symptoms have been present and lastly, how large the disparity of the child’s present behavior as opposed to his “usual” self.

–          Increased behaviors that point towards anger, sadness, hopelessness, irritability or hostility

–          Increased frequency of crying and temper tantrums. The teen may cry for no obvious reason.

–          Increased withdrawal from family and even from past friends. The teen may avoid social or family activity and would rather be alone.

–          The teen constantly has no energy or motivation and may start neglecting their hygiene and appearance.

–          Loss of interest in sports, hobbies and activities that the teen used to enjoy.

–          Shifts in bedtime and eating habits. May exhibit signs of an eating disorder – loss of appetite, unexplained weight gain or weight loss.

–          Lack of the ability to focus.

–          Comments about suicide or death, especially those that mention these as being beneficial or advantageous to him (i.e. “Perhaps more people will love me if I’m gone.”)

–          Increased complaints about stomachaches, headaches, back pains and dizziness where there is no medical cause.

–          Deteriorating school performance – drop in grades, discipline problems at school and truancy.

–          Preoccupation with sadness and death, may exhibit self-destructive behavior

–          Makes effort to run away from home or talks about it

Also take note that in some teens, depression may be predominantly marked by hostility, irritability and aggression rather than sadness.

Getting help

With teen depression, there is a tendency to act in self-destructive ways – attempt suicide, abuse drugs or alcohol, exhibit reckless behavior that may endanger self or others and so on. Suicide ranks in the top 3 causes of deaths among American teens. That is why it is important to get an early diagnosis and seek help from Provo counselors.

Getting a counselor that is not just qualified and trained but also experienced in handling troubled teens will be particularly helpful. If necessary, you must also get the help of a Provo substance abuse counselor to deal with alcohol or drug abuse.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that prevention programs, including individual or family counseling in Utah and therapeutic boarding schools, can really help to arrest the negative effects of teen depression. And by doing so, these also prevent alcohol and drug use or abuse, eating disorders and so on.  Teens usually need to simply get the tools to help him deal with teen depression.

If you are looking for an experienced family counselor in Provo, Utah, do give Dr. Triston Morgan a call. He has extensive experience in working with troubled teens, especially those with substance abuse issues. He provides his therapy in a non-confrontational environment that helps the child open up.


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