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Depression is a serious disease that affects adults, teenagers, and children.  Everyone has had periods of sadness in their life, perhaps due to a death or a loss, so how does a parent recognize when things have gone beyond a temporary bout of the ‘blues’?

A doctor or therapist can diagnosis depression, and will ask you or your teenager questions about mood, sleeping, eating, enjoyment of activities, fatigue, ability to concentrate, and thoughts of death.  However, parents are often the first ones to recognize that something might not be okay.  By familiarizing yourself with some of the symptoms of depression, you can help identify the problem and assist with getting the appropriate help.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is your teenager sad most of the day, most every day for 2 weeks or so?  (If your child’s mood is irritable instead, this can also be due to depression.)
  2. Has your teenager recently shown a significantly decreased interest in things/activities that were previously enjoyed?
  3. Has your teenager had a significant change in appetite or sleep or physical activity?  (either increasing or decreasing.)
  4. Has your teenager been having a hard time concentrating?
  5. Is your teenager having feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt?
  6. Has your teenager been thinking or talking repeatedly about death or suicide?

The first 2 questions are the most significant.  If you’ve answered yes to either of those, consider reaching out for professional guidance.  If you also answered yes to one or more of the following questions, consider it even more evidence that a professional’s involvement is needed.  A pediatrician, child psychologist, or a mental health therapist is your best choice for the next step.  Mental health therapists can have several different credentials, for example “Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC,) or Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT.)”  If you have health insurance, you can call your customer service number and ask about mental health benefits, and for a referral to a therapist who specializes in children and teenagers.  Your workplace might also offer EAP benefits including a short number of counseling sessions—these are often free or very inexpensive.  Most communities also have “Help Lines” or free  or low-cost counseling organizations.

It is very important to take depression seriously.  Please call someone today if you suspect your teenager is depressed—there are many effective treatments that can help.