This guest article from YourTango was written by Frank Medlar.

We all know the typical stereotype that teens are moody. You remember your own teen years … how intense your feelings were, how you soared to edgy emotional highs and then plummeted down into stress and heartache over troubles that seem now insignificant.

Depression is a different matter. It is not just plain moodiness. Instead, it is a mood disorder — a serious mental health condition that can sometimes even lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Until recently, it was thought that children and teens do not get mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder.

The sad truth is they do. The third leading cause of death among teens is suicide caused by untreated or undertreated depression.

For example, please consider these statistics:

  • The average age of depression onset is 14 years old.
  • By the end of their teen years, 20 percent of teens will have had depression.
  • More than 70 percent will improve through treatment — therapy and medication.
  • But 80 percent of teens don’t receive help regarding their depression.

What’s worse? Untreated depression can lead to substance abuse, academic failure, bullying (30 percent for those bullied, 19 percent for those doing the bullying), eating disorders, and even suicide.

Symptoms of Teen Depression

How do you tell the difference between clinical depression and ordinary teen moodiness?

These are some of the signs parents may notice. If they last for at least two weeks, what you are seeing may be depression:

  • An irritable, sad, empty or cranky mood and belief that life is meaningless.
  • Loss of interest in sports or activities they used to enjoy, withdrawal from friends and family, pervasive trouble in relationships.
  • Changes in appetite, significant weight gain or loss.
  • Excessive late-night activities, too much or too little sleep, trouble getting up in the morning, often late for school.
  • Physical agitation or slowness, pacing back and forth and/or excessive, or repetitive behaviors.
  • Loss of energy, social withdrawal, withdrawal from usual activities, or boredom.
  • Making critical comments about themselves, behavior problems at school or at home, overly sensitive to rejection.
  • Poor performance in school, a drop in grades, or frequent absences.
  • Frequent complaints of physical pain (headaches, stomach), frequent visits to school nurse.
  • Writing about death, giving away favorite belongings, comments like “You’ve be better off without me.”

Keep in mind that a lot of these symptoms are also indicative of normal teenage behavior. That’s why teenage depression can only be diagnosed by a trained health or mental health professional — like a child psychologist or psychiatrist.

Depression often runs in families. The causes may be related to physical or sexual abuse or triggered a stressful life event like divorce, a death or a breakup. Whatever the cause, depression is a biological condition. It is not something to be ashamed of and it needs to be treated. A combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy is often recommended for teens.

It is essential that the whole family receive education and support, which is available through organizations like Families for Depression Awareness. They offer extensive resources on depression for teens, including a Teen Fact Sheet that this article draws from.

If you think your teen is depressed, get them evaluated. Ask for a referral to a mental health clinician from your doctor or nurse, a local mental health clinic or hospital, friends, clergy, support groups, or clinician listed in our Find Help section.

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