May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness month – and it couldn’t be more timely as teens finish up finals and AP exams! Because mental health is a big part of your child’s overall wellbeing, we screen all teens ages 13 and up for depression at every well visit. However, things can come up between annual checkups, and it’s important for parents and teens to know what to look for. While some emotional ups and downs can be very normal during adolescence, it’s important to know the difference between a “down day” and signs of depression.

Roughly 6% of adolescents are estimated to have depression; however, less than 20% of those affected ever seek treatment. Girls are at higher risk than boys, possibly due to differences in peer relationships and use of social media apps between boys and girls.

What causes depression?

Many things can contribute to depression in teens. Risk factors including:

  • Normal hormonal changes that occur during puberty
  • An imbalance of neurotransmitters (the messengers of the brain and nervous system)
  • Experiencing some kind of trauma
  • Stress (including academic stress!)
  • Trouble with self-esteem, including difficulty with grades, being self-conscious about weight, and peer problems
  • A positive family history or personal history of anxiety, depression, or other mental illness
  • “A history of a physical disability”
  • Identifying as gay, lesbian, or transgender
  • Using drugs, tobacco, or alcohol

What are the signs of depression?

Depression is different for everyone, and many symptoms of depression can mimic how teens feel on a “down day”. When teens experience these symptoms most days or every day, it’s time to seek help.

What to watch for:

  • Changes in a teen’s attitude or behavior
  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Frequent irritability or anger, even over small things (maybe things that wouldn’t otherwise bother them)
  • A lack of interest in activities a teen usually enjoys (i.e: not wanting to spend time with friends and family)
  • Fixating on mistakes and criticizing themselves (i.e: over a poor grade, or self-criticism about weight)
  • Difficulty concentrating or feeling restless
  • Feeling fatigued or tired, or having difficulty sleeping (either too much or too little)
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Frequent complaints of physical discomfort or pain (i.e: headaches, body aches without any known cause)
  • Decline in typical school performance
  • Evidence of self-harm behaviors (i.e: cutting)
  • Frequent thoughts about death and suicide, or plans about suicide

Why is seeking treatment important?

Depression can be treated! Seeking treatment is important because depression is unlikely to go away on its own, and can get much worse. Depression puts teens at risk for abusing drugs and alcohol, strained relationships with friends and family, poor school performance, and self-harm and suicide.

Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in children ages 10-19. Ninety percent of teen suicide is associated with a history of a psychiatric illness. Over 35% of teens with depression have or will make a suicide attempt.

Know the warning signs, and act! If your teen is experiencing signs of depression, don’t wait to get help. It’s as easy as scheduling an appointment. We offer a safe space for teens and parents to talk, and we can help facilitate what can be a tough conversation. Just as no two people are alike, no two situations are exactly the same. The mental well-being of our patients is always considered on an individual basis to help your teen achieve their best self.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for 24 hour help at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

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